There has been an improvement in game time for Daryl Horgan in recent weeks. He started his first league game of the season on Boxing day against Barnsley, after coming off the bench the week before and scoring against Burton before that. That's why there is a momentary panic when he appears to limp into the player's lounge after Preston's game against Nottingham Forrest. This is not the time for an injury.
That panic soon turns to amusement when you see a two-year-old wrapped around his left leg, his son making it considerably more difficult for Horgan to navigate across the room. When Horgan made the decision to move from Dundalk to Preston, his girlfriend and son came with him.
They’ve been really good for me. Last summer, I told my girlfriend ‘there might be something on the horizon’ and she said ‘look I’ll go with you, no problem.’ She’s a home bird as well, but you’re not that far away either. She’s been brilliant, it was just ‘I’ll go with you, where do you need to go?’ We do what we can. It has changed with the little fella', you're a family then. I’ve enjoyed it. This was always what I wanted to do. I was always saying I was going to go, I’ve been away from home since I was 18.
Horgan breathes football. It’s what he always wanted to do and what he has always cared about. During the conversation he glances to the television, commenting and grimaces at a goalkeeper’s mistake in that game. He genuinely loves training and openly discusses everything from the Premier League top four race to Bray Wanderers' recent struggles.
I always wanted to be a professional footballer. My grandmother always says it to me now, slagging me off, ‘you always said it, you always said it.’ When I was in secondary school someone asked us what did we want to be. The first lad said a barrister or whatever, I said a footballer and the teacher laughed at me- ‘no chance of that happening!’
Horgan had a prolonged League of Ireland career that included spells with Sligo Rovers, Cork City and Dundalk. Throughout it all, he pushed for genuine progression, with a transfer to England always the goal.
I was conscious of that. That’s why I signed one-year deals. I wanted to see what would open up, what avenues came up. I’d been on trials before. That’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. In a sense it is wrong, but maybe if there was more recognition of players in Ireland. It looks more professional now, there are three clubs paying 52-week wages. It looks on the up.
He is at Preston now, alongside League of Ireland graduates Sean Maguire, Andy Boyle, Alan Browne and Kevin O’Connor. They were all forced to move abroad in order to progress.
That’s unfortunately the way it is. It is going to drive down Irish club’s potential as well. No brilliant footballer in Ireland will sign a three-year, four-year deal. Because their thinking ‘I will be stopped’, a club in England won’t pay the 150k for you unless you are totally unbelievable. No one will sign long-term contracts, so clubs can’t develop them. They can’t plan ahead, because they are constantly fire-fighting. The thought is ‘we’ve got a team this year, we could loss six of them next year.’
The Horgan family have contributed their fair share to Irish domestic football. Colm captained Galway United last year and has joined Cork City for 2018. Kevin is a goalkeeper at Shamrock Rovers while Christopher is currently with the Galway United Under 19s. It’s what compels Daryl to watch every week.
Yeah, I have to! I’ve three brothers in it at the minute, all around the league. Colm is very excited now, really looking forward to it. He was near inconsolable after the end of the year with Galway getting relegated, but straight away John Caulfield was on and interested. It’ll be brilliant for him, that’ll hopefully raise his game that bit more.
Horgan Horgan Horgan,
We've got Daryl Horgan,
We've got Daryl Horgan out wide,
He's Irish small & speedy,
Better than McGeady,
We've Daryl Horgan out wide, OUT WIDE #pnefc
— Goose (@twiteringgoose) December 9, 2017
Daryl Horgan, the Irish Jesus, very good winger
— Josh (@JDLNNY) December 26, 2017
Daryl Horgan what a professional off the bench to win it not for the first time #pnefc
— Jake Allen (@jakeallen96) December 10, 2017
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) December 9, 2017
A quick search of Horgan's name on Twitter results in overwhelmingly positive reactions to his performances, both at home and abroad. He is a rare commodity in Irish football, not merely because he is comfortable with the ball at his feet, but Horgan is one of the few genuine Irish talents comfortable going past a player with the ball at his feet. He is totally unaware of any online feedback though:
I don’t have twitter or Instagram. I just don’t like it. Listen, no one wants to know what I have to say. It’s just not for me, maybe that’s just the way I am. I have got an old head. Scrolling on a phone doesn’t appeal to me, I'd love to chat away with someone instead.
It’s been a whirlwind 2017 for Horgan. He made his debut against Arsenal last January, settled at his new club, played for Ireland twice and scored 3 times for Preston. He's frank in his assessment of it all.
As a whole, it’s been a big success, but the last few months have been disappointing personally. You’re not playing. Every footballer wants to play every week and when you’re not playing, it’s frustrating. To be honest, it’s really hard to stomach. Obviously, we’re doing quite well. The club is 8th now, strong position to kick on and make a break for the playoffs. But on a personal note you want to play every game and unfortunately, it hasn’t gone my way lately.
While not on social media, Horgan is aware of the hype surrounding his move after winning SSE Airtricity League Player of the Year in 2016 and starring in Europe for Dundalk. With heightened standards comes heightened expectations, which can prove challenging.
There is pressure, to be honest, I probably let it get to me more than I should of. I came on I wasn’t doing any time in games and it wasn’t going well. The last few I’ve come on I'm gradually improving and trying to get better, keep the head down. From playing every week and manager having faith in your game, there's a change. It’s a step up as well, a different approach.
With a sigh, he confesses much of the pressure is self-imposed. There's a constant demand for improvement that has assisted him to reach the heights he has, but gnaws at him while he plays:
It’s myself, there is so much pressure now and everyone wants to do well. Me, personally, I do put pressure on myself because, I want to work hard, and I want to play. You need to improve and then you're panicking a little bit, you do something wrong and it gets on top of you. You just have to let that go.
He wouldn't have it any other way though:
You want to go as high as possible. You have to, or at least you like to think it can happen. Listen, it might not. Even as a club we’ve got aspirations for the Premier League, we’re only a few points off the playoffs right now. The way championship is anything can happen. Hopefully, it all comes right.