As his new Hibs team-mates jetted out to Norway today ahead of Thursday’s showdown with Molde, Daryl Horgan was left home alone but for his own memories of big nights in Europe.
Although the Republic of Ireland midfielder’s move from Preston North End to Easter Road went through in time to allow him to make his debut against St Johnstone, it came after UEFA’s signing deadline for the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Hibs travel to Norway having been held to a no-scoring draw in the first leg, but while helpless as Neil Lennon’s side seek the away goals which will take them through to a play-off against either Dinamo Minsk or Zenit St Petersburg, Horgan claimed his experience of such matches with Dundalk was evidence enough that “anything can happen”.
Along with former Hibs midfielder Dean Shiels, Horgan was part of the Dundalk side which defied the odds to reach the play-off stage of the Champions League a couple of years ago, defeat by Legia Warsaw catapulting them into the group stages of the Europa League and pitching them against AZ Alkmaar, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Zenit.
But while such opposition proved too tough at the end of the day, Horgan insisted the highs far outweighed that disappointment saying: “Every one of those memories in Europe with Dundalk is special.
“The Champions League qualifier against BATE Borisov at home in Tallaght was incredible, beating them 3-0.
“We lost 1-0 over there but getting through we knew we were at least assured group stage football in the Europa League. It was an amazing feeling.
“We beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv and got a last minute equaliser at AZ Alkmaar – these are unbelievable moments. It was an incredible time to be playing for Dundalk.”
The group stages of this year’s competition are the stated goal of boss Neil Lennon and Horgan revealed he has every faith the Easter Road side can take a further step towards that target.
He said: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a tough tie away from home but Hibs have already done brilliantly. A lot of people would have written them off against Asteras Tripolis but to get through that was unreal and then they got a good result at home to Molde.
“Nick a goal away in Norway and the whole tie changes. Anything is possible. You just have to play well on the day and, although the styles clash sometimes, there isn’t that much of a jump. Going into a game balanced at 0-0, it’s just about who is better on the day.
“I’m sure the boys don’t need me to tell them how special a European run could be. They will be all guns blazing over there. You’d like to hope there’s an opportunity to be part of something like that again – we’re only three games away from the group stage.”
Horgan’s European exploits helped pave the way for his move to Lancashire along with team-mate Andy Boyle, but he found himself slipping out of Preston manager Alex Neil’s plans, a situation which led to a summer of speculation linking him with a switch to Edinburgh where Lennon has been a long-time admirer of the 26-year-old.
The midfielder, who has signed a three-year deal, said: “There was a lot of talk about this move and it looked like it was going to happen in June, but it was stopped. It was a move I was really interested in from the start of the summer.
“I always kept an eye on Hibs and they way they’ve gone about their business in the last year has been really impressive.
“With the way things have gone over the last couple of years at Hibs, getting relegated and the way they have bounced back and kicked on, the brand of football they are playing and the way they go about things.
“They are a club looking to compete at the top end of the table and play European football, so that was a huge draw. From Neil Lennon’s times at Celtic, his teams always played the sort of football that I would want to be involved in – attacking, quick and getting balls into the box. Thankfully it came up again over the last couple of days and I was delighted to get it over the line.
“First-team football didn’t come as much as I would have liked at Preston. There were lads ahead of me who the manager obviously thought were better or more suited to the way he wanted to do things. I enjoyed my time there but I wanted to play and Neil Lennon had told me I would get those opportunities if I was playing well.”
Horgan also hopes that will lead to a regular place in the Irish set-up, adding: “If I’m playing regularly towards the top of the Scottish Premiership then you would like to think the manager of the international team will be keeping and eye on that and I can get back in there.”