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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

Dundalk's returning star has no regrets over England move

After re-signing in the summer window, Andy Boyle has played twice already for the Lilywhites.

Andy Boyle has made two appearances since re-signing for Dundalk.
Andy Boyle has made two appearances since re-signing for Dundalk.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

DUNDALK’S ANDY BOYLE admits there were “tough times” during a two-and-a-half-year stint in England with Preston, but says he has no regrets, after recently re-signing for the Irish club in the summer transfer window.

Boyle made over 100 appearances for the Lilywhites between 2013 and 2016, helping them win three league titles during that period, while he was also an integral part of their memorable European run during the last season of his first spell at the Oriel Park outfit.

Those assured displays at the back attracted interest from across the water, and in December 2016, it was announced that Boyle and team-mate Daryl Horgan would be joining Preston.

The move didn’t really work out for either player, however. Neither established themselves in the first team, with Horgan now at Hibernian and Boyle re-joining Dundalk after being deemed surplus to requirements at the Championship club.

It didn’t help, of course, that Simon Grayson, the coach who brought the duo to England, left to manage Sunderland after six months. Alex Neil, the new manager, did not appear to rate Horgan and Boyle as highly as his predecessor, and the pair’s game time dissipated as a result.

Boyle had loan stints at Doncaster, Dundee and Ross County, before his release by Preston was confirmed at the end of last season.

Asked if he had any regrets about joining the Lancashire-based side, he replied: “No. I enjoyed it. These things happen in football when managers change and he [Simon Grayson] goes after six months. It’s not ideal. But listen, I got a first international cap [for Ireland]. I played in the Championship, I played in different venues. I think it was positive overall. There were tough times, there’s no doubt about that, but overall I’m happy I done it.

“I’ve still got plenty of years in the tank. It was a big commitment for me to come back and commit to a long-term deal here, but that’s because I believe in the club.”

Huddersfield Town v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - John Smith's Stadium Simon Grayson's departure as Preston boss spelled trouble for Andy Boyle. Source: Clint Hughes

And was it a straightforward decision to link up with Dundalk once again?

“Not essentially. I had some offers to stay in the UK and some offers here, but I spoke to the club and the manager. The club is heading places. When you see the facilities — not so much the stadium, but the training ground where we go every day, it’s a proper club now. It’s not the club where I left where we were training on the pitch. It’s all geared towards what players need now. It’s no stone left unturned from the club. So as players, you can have no excuses really. 

A big factor was European football and the nights I had before I went — you want more of them. It’s going to be difficult to get back there [in the group stages of a major competition]. But I think as a club, we’re in a good place — plenty of competition for places and a massive squad, which you need when you’re playing in all these competitions.”

Boyle received his first Ireland call-up while still at Dundalk, and Mick McCarthy’s inclusion of Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne in the squad for games against Gibraltar and Georgia earlier this year shows the current Boys of Green manager is not afraid to include League of Ireland players in his squad.

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And consequently, Boyle is not giving up hope of adding to the one senior international cap he earned off the bench in a March 2017 friendly against Iceland.

“Not at all. You’ve got to have aspirations to play at the highest level you can. I think you’re going to need another run in Europe to be in the [Ireland] team, there are a lot of variables in it, but you can never close the door on it. You try to be the best you can be every day and hopefully that’s where it takes you.”

But before Boyle starts thinking about a return to the international fold, he must first focus on playing regularly for Dundalk.

With Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland and Dan Cleary also available, manager Vinny Perth is not short of experienced and well-regarded centre-backs. Boyle’s first game back, his 170th league start for the club, was the 2-2 draw with Derry last Friday. 

In Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier, the Dubliner was initially on the bench, but came on at centre-back after half-time, as Chris Shields was forced to depart the action with an injury, meaning Hoare had to play midfield to compensate for his team-mate’s enforced absence.

And Boyle, who believes the Dundalk squad is stronger now compared with when he left in 2016, acknowledges he has a fight on his hands to secure regular first-team football at Oriel Park.

That’s down to me. As an individual, you’ve got to back yourself to get in the team. I know it won’t be easy, because the lads are top players. And I think that probably goes for every position in Dundalk, not just centre halves, though it’s probably highlighted a bit more [in the defence].”

And while most players starting a campaign would have the benefit of a full set of pre-season fixtures behind them, Boyle was not afforded this opportunity. Instead, he has been immediately thrust into the thick of the action, featuring in two intense, important games in quick succession.

“I was prepared to be patient,” he adds. “But in the off-season, there was always a chance [I'd sign for Dundalk]. I worked hard that I’d be in a position to play these games and feel comfortable. I knew [a deal] was half in the pipeline early on in the summer, so I’ve done it right and it’s paid off, because I’ve done okay in the games. The more games you play, the better you’re going to get, but it’s a decent start.

“You can always get better match sharpness. You usually play six or seven pre-season games, but I’ve played the full 90 at Derry and obviously a half [on Wednesday]. It’s good to be back out there. The European games are massive for the club.” 

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Paul Fennessy

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