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Is Preston the right move for Dundalk duo?

Is Preston the right move for Dundalk duo?

The now well discussed photo of the 8 League of Ireland graduates who formed one over a third of Ireland's Euro 2016 squad spoke volumes to the emerging trend of Irish players emigrating to England at a later stage in their footballing development.

This month has seen LOI's latest two graduates, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle swap Dundalk for Preston North End to increase the Irish contingent of the Lancashire club to 6.

While there is ample evidence to argue for or against our brightest talents leaving at the age of 16, the amount of players who commence their senior careers at Irish clubs before emigrating is most certainly on the rise.

However, whether the LOI products who leave in their 20's ever graduate to the national team squad can often be heavily influenced by their choice of club when heading across the Irish Sea.

This is all the more complicated by the fact that many of these players leave aged 23 or more, therefore costing their English no transfer fee (the players are usually out of contract).  Given the vast budgets of most English club, Irish players represent a transfer option of minimal risk.  This can ease the passage for the player but often reduce the time, energy and patience the English club will invest in said player.

It can be hugely flattering for a big Championship or small Premier League club to show an interest in a LOI player and the contract on offer can be staggering for a player likely to have been earning less than €50k a year on a 1 year 40 week contract in the LOI.

Arriving mid-season also increases the difficulty of settling in to the new club and of breaking into an often settled team.

These issues came to mind when it was announced that Newcastle and Sunderland were interested in signing Horgan.  If a contract was offered, could he really turn down either club? What is easier to gauge is whether or not those moves would have been the best fit for him.

A poor start or an injury could see him languishing in the reserves of either club, both of whom have extremely active chequebooks.  Such is the pressure on the managers of both clubs, the luxury of investing faith and time in a low-profile (in English terms) player like Horgan just isn't available to them.

Injuries have certainly played a part in the slow progress of two recent LOI graduates.  Both Brian Lenihan (who left Cork City to join Hull) and Richie Towell (who moved from Dundalk to Brighton) have struggled to overcome the obstacles mentioned above.

Towell, while playing the latter half of his ultimate Dundalk season in centre midfield, is essentially a no.10 or a creative attacking midfielder.  These types of players are usually the fulcrum of any side, with the team needing to be built around them.

Towell, the outstanding LOI talent in 2015 scoring 25 goals from midfield, moved mid-season to Brighton. A club who are currently £170m in debt, with their wage bill exceeding their entire turnover, all in the pursuit of the Premier League promotion bonanza.  

They also signed Steve Sidwell, the dogged and battle hardened Stoke City midfielder in the same January transfer window. No guessing which player would get the chance to break into this promotion chasing side.

A few months before Towell's move, Chris Forrester left St Pat's for Peterborough, a mid-table League One outfit.  The move to a club at a lower level has worked out extremely well for Forrester.  We can only speculate on the reasons for this, perhaps the footballing ideology of the manager, the smaller budget and squad size of the club or even the squad stability enjoyed by Peterborough.

However, not only did he break into the first team very quickly, he did so as a deep lying midfielder, ( left wing was his home at Pats, mostly due to the quality of the central midfield players at the club) and became the hub around which the entire team centred.

Such was his impact, receiving Match of the Day plaudits following some very impressive FA Cup performances and being heavily linked to Premier League clubs, he was appointed club captain within 10 months of being at Peterborough.

It is very difficult to imagine Forrester making the transition to English football so seamlessly had he joined a club of the level of Brighton or Hull for example.

Needless to say, the options each player had before them are not known and it is highly possible that the choice of club was perhaps less thought out than this article is supposing.

Nevertheless, it is heartening that Horgan and Boyle have ended up at a club like Preston. With the boss Simon Grayson in situ for almost 4 years, a meagre enough transfer budget (most signings are in and around the 250k mark) and a manager with a footballing philosophy more in keeping with Dundalk than the more direct approach that many Championship teams adopt.

While both players were part of the squad for the recent World Cup qualifier against Austria, the path from the League of Ireland to the national team squad has always involved a journey to a foreign club.  That move has worked out for many and has a much higher success rate than the players who move as 15/16 year olds but the fact remains that it is a journey fraught with many many obstacles.

With the progress and experience that both Horgan and Boyle have made in the past year alone with Dundalk, they leave Ireland with high hopes and lofty ambitions but until they line-out regularly for their country we will have to hold judgement on whether Preston was the right club at the right time for either player. 

We watch on with keen eyes.

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