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Boyle ready to seize his chance after earning dream move to England

One of the League of Ireland’s top defenders is preparing to begin life at Championship club Preston North End.

Andy Boyle (file photo).
Andy Boyle (file photo).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

AFTER THE MOST hectic season of his football career, Andy Boyle is taking a well-earned few days to celebrate Christmas with the family.

It will be short-lived, however, as an exciting new chapter in his life awaits at Preston North End.

As an ever-present at the heart of Dundalk’s backline and the club’s captain when Stephen O’Donnell wasn’t available, the Dubliner was once again pivotal in their second consecutive defence of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title — playing over 50 games in all competitions.

But it was during the remarkable European campaign that the former UCD man, who has been a key player for the Lilywhites since arriving from Shelbourne in 2013, caught the eye and proved to potential suitors that he could make the step up.

Boyle was always quietly confident in his own ability but accepts that competing against top class opposition in the group stages has forced people to stand up and take notice.

“Before (the Europa League run) I had an idea I could play at that level but when you do well against top teams like Zenit St Petersburg, who are really a Champion League-quality side, it re-iterates that you can,” he told  The42 last week.

“The Europa League runs has been brilliant for a number of players. Myself and Daryl (Horgan) got into the international squad and I don’t think that would’ve happened just playing in the league.

“We haven’t really changed much but playing in Europe gives you a bit of a profile and the chance to pit your wits against better opposition than you would be playing week-in week-out at home.”

Rumours were rife for some time that a move to England was on the cards and on 12 December — four days after Dundalk’s Europa League exit brought the historic 2016 campaign to a disappointing end — Preston announced that they had struck a two-and-a-a-half year deal for Boyle.

There were several interested parties, but the defender explains that he was certain the Championship promotion hopefuls were the club for him during his first visit.

“It was probably about a month or so before the move actually happened that my agent (Patrick Conliffe of Full Contact Ireland) told me there was interest from Preston,” said Boyle.

I had offers from other clubs but the first time I went over to have a look around Preston and meet the manager and all the staff, I knew that was the place I wanted to go. Sometimes you just get a good feeling about these things.”

Boyle had a chat with Simon Grayson during that trip and liked what he heard from the first team boss.

“As a player, you want to get a good feeling off the manager as he is the one who will be picking the team,” he said.

“He told me that getting a chance will be up to me and that’s what you want to hear. They’re doing quite well in the Championship and they’re only a few points off the play-off places.

“So it will be hard to break in but we’ll have to try look to do that and once you do get in it’s about staying in there and playing well.”

Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan The defender (left) will have Daryl Horgan as a team-mate at Preston. Source: Mikhail Kireev/INPHO

Boyle will be joined at North End, also coincidentally nicknamed the Lilywhites, by Dundalk team-mate Daryl Horgan after they made a double swoop, while there is a strong Irish representation at the club when you consider Aiden McGeady, Eoin Doyle, Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham are all on the books.

“I signed before Daryl so at the time I wasn’t sure if he was going to be joining, although I knew there was interest,” he explains.

“I know Greg Cunningham from playing underage for the Irish team and Eoin Doyle would’ve played in the league so I knew of him.

“The lads will help along the way but when I went over and met the squad they were all very welcoming and I’m just looking forward to getting started now.

“Once you get a taste of it you want train as hard as possible, do as well as you can and see where it takes you.”

While the pair can’t officially be registered until 1 January, they will head back over this week to train and get settled. Boyle will live at the club hotel for now but plans to view potential houses for him and his partner to move into.

“I’m back the 27th for training so I have a few days at home to enjoy Christmas with the family. It’s been such a hectic time over the last 11 months without a break so it’ll be good for the body and the mind.

Then I’ll be fresh to go over and make my mark.”

There’s an away trip to Burton Albion on 2 January, but Preston then face a mouth-watering FA Cup tie at home to Premier League heavyweights Arsenal five days later.

Boyle hopes to hit the ground running and admits any involvement against the Gunners would make for a fairytale debut.

“You couldn’t pick a better game to possibly get into the squad or even make your debut,” he says. “It’s down to myself to impress the coaches, the staff and the manager and see if that can take me into the squad.

“I have to take it one step at a time and work hard when I get over there to see if I can get into the manager’s plans.

“We won’t have lost too much fitness from the season as our last game was a couple of weeks ago and we will have a few days training under our belts too.”

Jeff Hendrick and Andy Boyle Boyle on Ireland duty in Austria with Burnley's Jeff Hendrick. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Having impressed Martin O’Neill throughout the year, both Boyle and Horgan received international recognition when they were named in Ireland’s squad for the World Cup qualifier away to Austria in November.

And although neither would earn a first senior cap in the 1-0 win, the experience has made Boyle hungry to become a regular  in the Ireland set-up.

“That’s definitely the aim  after getting a taste of it. It’s a cliche but playing for your country is every young boy’s dream and I’m no different.

“I’ve got the foot in the door and it was great to get the call-up but part of the move is to prove you can better yourself as a player in the Championship.

“It will give me more of a chance to be selected. When we were in for that week, Martin, Roy and the coaching staff saw what we can do so hopefully I’ll be in the reckoning when the next squad comes around.”

It has been a mixed off-season for Boyle’s former club with Ronan Finn departing for Shamrock Rovers before Dane Massey, Sean Gannon and Stephen O’Donnell all signed contract extensions to remain at Oriel Park.

There’s a bit of a rebuilding job needed, but Boyle is confident that Kenny can recruit well enough to ensure they challenge for a fourth title in-a-row in 2017.

“When I played my first game at the club, Stephen had built the team from nothing,” he recalls. “He picked up players that some League of Ireland sides wouldn’t have been too keen on.

I’m sure he has got a few tricks up his sleeve whether it is from within the league or in the UK. But he has definitely got the ability as a manager to fill the gaps.

“People probably forget that Dundalk have lost players like Richie Towell and Pat Hoban in the past. It has probably been one every year and now he will need a few players to fill the void.

“I’ve no doubt that Dundalk will be up there challenging them again next year and I look forward to watching their games. Hopefully they can have another good run in Europe.”

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Ben Blake

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