Stephen Kenny, perhaps understandably, isn’t surprised to see Daryl Horgan making a significant early impact at Hibs. After all, this is a player who, more than anyone else, helped the former Dunfermline Athletic manager preside over the most glittering period in Dundalk’s history.
When Horgan arrived at Oriel Park from Cork City at the start of 2014, Dundalk were on a 19-year League of Ireland title drought and were perennially eliminated from European competition at the first hurdle. By the time the little winger from Galway had been headhunted by Preston North End three years later (in January 2017), Dundalk had won three consecutive league titles and qualified for the group stage of the Europa League in 2016. Kenny believes it is no coincidence that his team enjoyed such success at a time when Horgan was routinely running the show.
“In my first season at Dundalk, we finished second but then we signed Daryl in 2014 and he was the difference,” Kenny told the Evening News. “We went on to win three league titles in a row and qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, and Daryl Horgan was nothing short of brilliant in that period. I’ve had some good players who have gone to play in Scotland or England but Daryl was a special player and a special person. Daryl is diminutive but he’s got a big heart and he was a big personality for us. Without him, we wouldn’t have qualified for the Europa League. I’m not one to give out praise that easily but I can’t speak highly enough about Daryl. He was a standout for us.”
Horgan, playing from the left wing, scored 27 goals in just over 100 starts over his three magnificent years with Dundalk before and was rewarded with his first Republic of Ireland call-up at the end of 2016 and a big move to the English Championship. Following 20 months at Deepdale, the 26-year-old relocated to Edinburgh earlier this month to reignite his career at Hibs after falling out of favour under Alex Neil, and Kenny has no doubt that, after a couple of promising early displays against Ross County and Aberdeen, he will rediscover his best form under Neil Lennon.
“I expect Daryl to do very well at Hibs because they’ve got a manager who likes good footballers,” said Kenny. “He encourages attacking players and I think he’ll appreciate Daryl’s qualities, both in the sense that he delivers with an end product and also his high work rate for the team. He’ll be an excellent addition to Hibs. The standard of the Scottish Premiership is becoming stronger all the time, particularly with the big clubs, and Daryl is equipped to shine in an environment like that.
“He’s an example to any player. His commitment to practising is unparalleled with any player I’ve worked with. He was obsessed with working on all aspects of his game, his crossing, his finishing – you’d have to drag him off the training pitch. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever had. He’s a very intelligent young man and he’s very modest, but he has the temperament for the big games. He scored twice against Cork City in a title decider in 2016, a brilliant free-kick into the top corner and then shortly after he ran from his own half and buried one from outside the box. He scored another brilliant goal against a really good Zenit St Petersburg side in Russia. He gets a lot of goals but really he’s a creator of goals. He weighs in with important goals but he gets a huge amount of assists. He’ll be a very popular player at Hibs. He’s a genuine boy who gives everything for the team.”
Horgan impressed as an attacking central midfielder within a 3-5-2 formation against Aberdeen on Saturday, with Lennon admitting afterwards that he still needs to work out the best way to fit the Irish maverick into his side. Kenny believes Hibs will get most joy from their recent recruit if they deploy him out wide. “He is a right-footed player but he’s basically two-footed,” said Kenny. “He’s more effective playing on the left than he is on the right. Preston tended to use him on the right but I found him better on the left because he was so good at cutting in and delivering in-swinging right-footed crosses from the left into that area between the left-back and the left centre-back.
“He’s a centre-forward’s dream because of the quantity of crosses he gets into the box and also the accuracy of them. He’ll create you a lot of chances by doing that. For some right-footed players, that’s the only cross they have but he can cross with both feet so he can go inside or outside the full-back. He won’t have played as a No.10 much in his career but he’s got the attributes to play there and I can see why Neil would play him there if he’s playing 3-5-2. For me, he is best playing in an attacking wide-left position but he’s the type of player you just want in your team wherever he’s playing.”
Horgan has been on Kenny’s radar since his teenage years and the Dundalk manager has taken great delight in seeing him develop into one of Ireland’s best attackers. Although he has made only one start and three sub appearances for the national team, he has become a mainstay of Martin O’Neill’s squad over the past year and a half, and was this week selected for the upcoming matches against Wales and Poland.
“He was always a prospect but he wasn’t a prodigious 16-year-old or anything like that,” Kenny explained. “He’s just improved all the time and made himself better through having a great attitude. It’s difficult when people doubt you because of your size and want more athletic players. I don’t think going to Preston will have improved him athletically because he was in a full-time regime here at Dundalk that was conducive to allowing him to be the best he could be fitness-wise, but the standard of the Championship is obviously higher so he’ll have had to adjust that and the pressure of being at a much bigger club.
“He did well in his time there although he played more in his first season there under Simon Grayson. Alex Neil obviously had other options he preferred but Martin O’Neill has continued to pick him consistently in the Ireland squad. We take a lot of satisfaction from what he’s done but it’s not about us, ultimately it’s all about Daryl and his own dedication.”