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'I’m stronger mentally from my experiences in England. It was a frustrating time'

Dundalk striker Patrick Hoban is on target to set a new record for most goals scored in a single Premier Division season.

Hoban has 21 league goals in 25 appearances this season.
Hoban has 21 league goals in 25 appearances this season.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IF THERE WERE any doubts about whether Patrick Hoban could rediscover his scoring touch at Dundalk, they were soon put to bed.

20 league goals in 2014 had helped the Lilywhites claim a first Premier Division title under Stephen Kenny, while earning him a move back across the water to Oxford United.

But his second spell in England — having previously spent time at Bristol City as a teenager — was to prove hugely frustrating. After loan moves to Stevenage and Grimsby Town, the Galway native joined Mansfield Town in 2016 but he was released by the League Two side at the end of the season.

That opened the door for a return to Oriel Park last November, and with David McMillan departing for St Johnstone, they were in the market for a quality centre forward.

“There were some highs and a lot of lows,” Hoban said of his time in England this week. “It was quite frustrating for me and I never really got a solid run of games.

“In my first season at Oxford, I struggled in terms of fitness and never had a manager who saw me as their number one striker. I found that and not getting the game-time I wanted hard to deal with.

I’ve come back to a manager who plays to my strengths and he’s a great man-manager. Thankfully, I produced the goods in terms of goals and performances on the pitch. That’s just the way it goes in football, but I’m definitely a lot happier playing my football here.”

Hoban missed a chunk of pre-season due to a thigh injury and took some time to find his match fitness in the opening fixtures of the 2018 campaign.

However, he bagged a brace in the 8-0 drubbing at home to Limerick at the end of February, and hasn’t looked back since. 21 goals in 25 league games mean he’s the most prolific finisher in the top flight by some distance this term, and the player himself believes he has become a much more rounded footballer at the age 26.

“I’m stronger mentally from my experiences in England,” he explained. “I feel like I’ve improved my all-round game, and physically too, I’m stronger. With the boys around me, I’ve been getting plenty of crosses into the box and chances created and at the moment the ball is going into the back of the net.

Hopefully that continues for the rest of the season because it would be nice to set a new record for the amount of league goals scored in a season.”

With 12 league games remaining, Dundalk are currently on course to wrestle back the title from rivals Cork City and Hoban has a real chance of setting a new record for most Premier Division goals scored in a single season.

Five or more will see him eclipse the tally of 25 that Richie Towell (2015), Jason Byrne (2004) and Glen Crowe (2001) all clocked up.

SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month June With his SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month award this week. Source: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

Of more immediate concern for Hoban, who was this week named SSE Airtricity League/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for June, is the Louth club’s European hopes as they host Estonian outfit Levadia Tallinn in a Europa League first qualifying round second leg this evening.

Dylan Connolly’s crucial away goal handed them a slender advantage last week, but there is still work to be done.

“I felt that we probably should have come away with a 2-0 or 3-0 to make it a little easier for ourselves, but there is no doubt they’re a very good side and they have a lot of threats that could hurt us,” Hoban added.

“We’ve been doing analysis on that, but they also have weaknesses that we can hopefully exploit. You can’t take anything for granted as it’s only 1-0 and we’re halfway through the tie, so all it would take is a goal for them to make it difficult.

Hopefully we’re ready to go and focused to. Keeping a clean sheet will be key.”

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Having watched the adventure to the Europa League group stages from afar back in 2016, it’s satisfying on a personal level to be involved this time around and Hoban has his sights set on a similar feat.

“Over the years when I was in the UK, I always kept my eye on Dundalk and I watched them right through their European run,” he said. “I remember thinking how exciting it was from the outside looking in.

“Hopefully we can do something similar this time around because we have a good enough squad to push on a few rounds, and with a bit of luck, you never know what could happen. We just have to make sure to get through on Thursday.”

Dylan Connolly celebrates scoring a goal with teammates Hoban and Dundalk players celebrate Connolly's goal last week. Source: Eveliis Mee/INPHO

Kenny possesses unrivalled squad depth at present and the return of Patrick McEleney from Oldham Athletic coupled with their acquisition of promising forward Georgie Kelly from UCD have further reinforced that.

“We have quite a big squad now and it’s very strong in every position,” he says. “We’ve got two players there who could do a decent job, so there is healthy competition for everyone. That keeps you on your toes and keeps you focused, not just in games but during training too.

“I think we are getting better week-in week-out and hopefully playing in the Europa League can help us reach the level that we’re capable of, especially with the new signings coming in too. They are bound to give the gaffer a headache, but that can only be a good thing.”

The likes of Graham Burke, Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle have all received Ireland call-ups on the back of their exploits in the League of Ireland recently, and if Hoban keeps up his form in front of goal, international manager Martin O’Neill will be unable to ignore the former Mervue United hitman.

If I got an Ireland call-up it would be great,” he admits. “That’s the type of thing you dream of as a young footballer, and even now. I’ve never played for Ireland before, even at underage level, so it would be a great honour if I ever got a cap.

“It would be massive, not just for me, but for my family, everyone at Dundalk and everyone in the league. I don’t see why not, there are a few in the league that could easily be capped for the Ireland team. You don’t have to go the UK just to get one.

At the moment, I’m just focused on what I’m doing as everything is coming together. I’m probably in the prime of my career so far and hopefully I can pass the goal record in Ireland and set a new target for generations to come.

“If I do that, who knows what can happen. You never know.”

Europa League first qualifying round, second legs: 

  • Dinamo Minsk v Derry City, 4pm
  • AIK v Shamrock Rovers, 6pm
  • Dundalk v Levadia Tallinn, 7.45pm

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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