Daryl Horgan in action for Dundalk FC against Alireza Jahanbakhsh of AZ Alkmaar during the 2016/17 Europa League group stages. (Pic: Sportsfile)
Jordan Flores’ goal against Waterford recently was a stunner, his left-footed drive nearly tearing the net from its frame. So good was it that it placed a stocky shadow over the quality of Michael Duffy’s brace.
Okay, so Duffy’s first wasn’t exactly intended, his whipped free-kick having evaded everyone in bouncing its way to the bottom corner of the net. But the second was pure class and a typical Duffy finish - picking the ball up in a pocket of space, turning and shooting with precision to score.
Vinny Perth mentioned in recent weeks that the wideman had only been training sporadically during late spring as he tried to free himself of injury while continuing to make the cut on a match night. His knock, it appears, has been rid of, with performances over the last couple of games being of a typical Duffy level.
The Derry man is at the centre of almost everything that is good about Dundalk at the moment - in a similar way to how he was last season, his efforts having been good enough to see him claim the PFAI Players’ Player of the Year award.
Last Tuesday, Ireland manager Mick McCarthy included Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne in his training panel ahead of the upcoming Euro qualifiers. Straight away, the eye was drawn to see if former Lilywhite Daryl Horgan - who has enjoyed a fine run of form for Hibernian towards the end of the season - was named. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.
And, then, as the afternoon progressed, a question began to swirl in the mind: ‘What has Byrne done this season that Duffy hasn’t, either currently or before?’. For all the deficiencies Ireland have, they certainly aren’t shy of competition in central midfield areas and in the No.10 void where Byrne performs his best, Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick of Burnley ain’t going to be shoved aside by the 23-year-old any time soon.
It’s widely acknowledged that Ireland are weakest in the centre-forward position, although David McGoldrick’s club form has earned him a recall, while Seán Maguire has the potential to be a goalscorer at international level. Shane Long’s return to the finishers’ enclosure is also welcome in this regard.
But out wide is arguably where McCarthy is most in need. He has a player pool, the likes of James McClean, Robbie Brady and Callum O’Dowda, though, being honest, have any of those got the conventional wingman abilities of either Duffy or Horgan?
And this isn’t a rant from a Dundalk soul whose view on the latter pair is bias, or maybe it is, but, in any case, Ireland simply haven’t got other options with their quality. Duffy is electric, so forward-thinking that Martin O’Neill would likely have turned away in disgust had the Foylesider ever been in a position to call forth his compatriot.
There would, of course, be the League of Ireland argument and ‘the standard that Duffy is playing at’ card thrown into any debate (Note: Byrne is in the same predicament). Perhaps he would have to prove himself during friendly matches, etc, before he could be meaningfully engaged with in the same bracket as McClean and co, but there can be simply no doubting Horgan’s credentials.
His goal, the winner, in the Edinburgh derby a number of weeks back was breathtaking. He took the ball on the turn, dribbled forward and unleashed a cracker off his weaker left side into the bottom corner, for his second strike of the contest. View it and try to recall if any of the other Irish flankers have produced a finish as deadly as that this season - never mind that it was in such a high stakes derby. I’d be stumped if you were to be successful.
Granted Horgan’s time served under Alex Neil at Preston wasn’t as fruitful as it was when the man who signed him, Simon Grayson, was in the dugout - Neil being much more pragmatic in terms of his team’s formation, which the off-the-cuff Galwegian isn’t exactly custom-made for.
Nonetheless, Horgan has proven himself to be a classy operator more than capable of doing the business for Ireland. Have any of his colleagues in the wing department won games on their own? Scored in the Europa League? Roasted internationals on a consistent basis?
Overlooking Dundalk’s current No.7 is hard enough to comprehend, never mind ignoring their former one.