Daryl Horgan. (Pic: Preston North End)
Despite defeating Burton Albion in their last game of the season on Sunday, Preston North End fell short of the Championship play-off places. An impressive campaign in manager Alex Neil’s first season saw the Deepdale club amass a considerable 73 points in finishing seventh - their highest league placing in a decade.
However, for Daryl Horgan followers, it’s been a frustrating season. The former Dundalk FC star has featured in less than half of North End’s league games, starting only twice with the last of those coming at Cardiff on December 29.
He scored against Burton earlier this campaign - his only goal this season - but, as has been so often the case since being left out of the matchday 18 in February, the Galwegian’s name failed to appear on the teamsheet for Sunday’s season finale.
“To be honest, for me, this season has been quite a disappointment on my part. The team has done well and the lads have played well, but I was hoping to play as much as I possibly could and to be involved right from the off and I suppose it just didn't fall that way really,” Horgan told The Dundalk Democrat.
“I never really got going as much as I would have liked and I've not really played too much this year or impacted games as much as I would have liked. Going from a position from where I had played so much to not playing at all was very, very tricky.
“For me personally, it's been quite disappointing.”
Having been signed by Simon Grayson, along with former Dundalk team-mate Andy Boyle, Horgan was an instant hit with the Lancashire side’s fans. However, despite feeling happy with his work in pre-season, after Grayson left to take the reins at Sunderland, Neil altered the set-up, preferring a more pragmatic line-up which didn’t altogether marry with Horgan’s flair.
Despite getting gametime on a regular basis early in the season, mostly off the bench, opportunities became more sporadic. Boyle, meanwhile, found it even tougher to break in and went to Doncaster Rovers on-loan in January.
Although, following the defender’s lead and seeking a temporary switch was never an option for Horgan, who hopes to sit down with Neil - who led Norwich City to the Premier League in 2015 - to discuss his future in the coming days.
“When the season's over I'll sit down with the manager and have a chat about what I need to do and where I need to go. I'll see what he has to say and I'll go away and work on that and hopefully come back in good shape.
“They might decide to offload me in the summer. It all depends. At the minute, there's no talk about that, but we'll have to wait and see on that front. I'm a Preston player and I'll be aiming to be playing here in August.”
Despite his limited first-team openings at club level, the 25-year-old was named in the Irish international squad for the friendly with Turkey in March, coming on as a substitute to earn his third cap, while Martin O'Neill also named him in the panel for the friendlies later this month.
That came as a surprise, though he hopes the inclusion bodes well for the months ahead. He has spoken briefly to O’Neill about his lack of matchplay at Preston, without disclosing too many details.
“If you're not playing football then you can't really be picked for the international team so it was quite surprising, but I was absolutely delighted to be involved in the last squad and obviously, playing as well, it was a big boost for me.
“It's quite a tough year when you're not in and you're hoping things will go your way and I've spoken very briefly with the manager about that and obviously he called me in so that's fantastic, but hopefully I can play more regularly next year and make a claim to stay in the Irish set-up from what I'm doing at club level rather than what I've done before.”
Nonetheless, he feels that he’s improved facets of his game, but this is somewhat redundant given the platform to prove himself hasn’t been there.
“In one sense, it's hard to judge because when you're not playing you can't really showcase it. I definitely feel as fit as I've ever been. Possibly, I've improved on my game but when you're not playing that's hard to judge. You can only judge it between the white lines on a Saturday. It doesn't matter if I've improved or not, I just need to play.”
Having kept a close eye on matters at home, Horgan quips that he has a foot in three camps with his brothers, Kevin, ‘keeper at Shamrock Rovers, and Colm, Cork City’s right-back, involved in the League of Ireland.
However, with his links to Dundalk outstanding, he feels Stephen Kenny’s men have “kicked on at the top of the table” having relinquished their crown. Perhaps that’s an omen for Horgan who himself will want to recover his place on the Preston mantle for next season because, as everybody in Ireland, and parts of Europe, is aware, the boy has talent!