'That was one of the big reasons for picking Preston'- Horgan and Boyle finding feet in brave new world
Preston's new recruits tell Daniel McDonnell about a fresh start
When Daryl Horgan was sent to warm up on Saturday evening, he wasn't sure if it meant anything.
Preston's FA Cup tie with Arsenal was finely poised at 1-1, a situation that is not always conductive to introducing a debutant substitute.
But when Preston boss Simon Grayson made the sales pitch to Horgan and Andy Boyle in November, he promised opportunities. And the proof was there for all to see when Horgan was summoned and sent into the fray.
There was no fairytale ending, with Olivier Giroud's last-minute winner giving Arsenal a result that looked unlikely in the first half, and Horgan was visibly frustrated afterwards instead of being overjoyed at his personal landmark. "I'm gutted," he sighs.
Still, this was an evening which advertised why the Dundalk duo made a good choice when they opted for Deepdale as the next step when their European exploits opened doors.
Boyle did not make the bench on Saturday but the sale of Australian international Bailey Wright 48 hours earlier means he is already third choice centre-half.
Horgan was introduced because he will naturally slot into Preston's style of play and he did impress in his ten-minute cameo, linking quite well with the busy Aiden McGeady, who switched inside after his arrival.
"That was one of the big reasons for picking Preston," he explains. "They try to play the right way and they've a lot of good footballers, a lot of talented footballers, and I thought I could buy into that."
Horgan belongs already, even if the annoyance of picking up the flu had set him back slightly since his arrival.
Last Monday's Championship trip to Burton was missed for that reason and he only came back into full training on Thursday and Friday.
So, in that context, getting the opportunity to feature was a vote of confidence. What's new at the moment will soon feel like the norm. Saturday was the ideal introduction.
Preston was grey, wet and foggy during the week, with the gloomy weather and the January chill offering little potential for a cheerful postcard picture.
What was once a town is now classified as a city, having been granted the honour in 2002 as part of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations, but it didn't feel like one in the 48 hours leading up to the game, with the majority of the population - 114,000 as per the last census - opting to stay indoors.
It was only on Saturday afternoon that punters filled the streets and the place came to life. Empty hotels filled up with match traffic. In these northern communities, football is the electricity
The heavy Irish flavour in Grayson's squad sits easily with the club's history. Three Preston legends have stands named after them, with a mural visible in the pattern of the seats.
In addition to Tom Finney and Bill Shankly, Alan Kelly Snr is the third. Deepdale's address is Tom Finney Way, but Alan Kelly Walk is one of the adjoining streets.
Kelly is the most celebrated Irish connection, but there are others. Frank O'Farrell is remembered fondly for a spell at the club, and Mark Lawrenson, Alan Kelly Jnr and Kevin Kilbane all grew up in the area and kickstarted their pro careers with North End.
Kilbane was reared in the strong Preston-Irish community and still has family in the locality.
As the generations have passed, the Irish influence in the area is not quite as visible. Preston's history as a busy industrial town made it a popular destination for emigrants.
Some of the old meeting points have closed or now operate under different ownership, but the Irish population remains sizeable. Two years ago they caused a stir when they lobbied the local council with a view to getting the tricolour flown as part of the Easter Rising commemorations. The proposal was rejected, yet the fact that it gained traction showed they continue to have a voice.
For the visit of Arsenal, one of the corporate boxes was rented out by the Preston-Irish. They are already well represented in the dressing-room.
Galway's Greg Cunningham is a fixture in the side at left-back, and popular with the fans. McGeady has done well since joining from Everton on loan. Corkman Alan Browne came off the bench on Saturday, while Dubliner Eoin Doyle was an unused sub. Boyle and Horgan have swelled the contingent and they have been embraced.
Both will move into new houses this week and they are looking forward to it. Their home since moving across has been the Farington Lodge Hotel on the outskirts of Preston, an establishment which belongs to the club's owner Trevor Hemmings, a face familiar to fans of National Hunt racing as a Grand National-winning owner with Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds.
Last Thursday evening, Boyle sat in the hotel's restaurant discussing the adjustment process. At another table, Horgan and his girlfriend Donna were feeding their young son Jack.
"It's the first time I've lived out of home," explains Boyle, who already had an idea that the Arsenal match would not be his breakthrough.
He had spent the afternoon furniture shopping with his girlfriend Hayley, another task for their list on top of sourcing a car, switching to an English phone and ticking boxes that would be taken for granted at home.
"We've been saving for a house for two years and we were in the process of buying one when this move cropped up so we've put that on hold," he continues.
"So these are all things that we haven't faced before, but I'm loving it. They're all good challenges."
When he was younger, the challenges were too daunting for him. Deep down, the Palmerstown lad was a homebird, the youngest of three who was happy where he was and determined to complete his Leaving Cert before focusing on football. Top-level offers were spurned.
"I'm sure my classmates thought I was mad," he laughs. "I'd watched League of Ireland with my dad when younger and I thought there was a league here and I'd give that a bash."
Considering he turns 26 in March, it was logical for Boyle to be planning for the future at home. Previous English offers had underwhelmed.
"I've had sniffs from League One, League Two sides and the offers weren't always right," he says - a story to which Horgan can relate.
"The odd time there would have been an offer to go on trial which I would never have done. At my age, I think it's wrong for players to be asked to go on trial. I was saying no because we were having a great time at Dundalk, being successful and winning leagues."
But the European run and subsequent international call opened doors to offers that were simply too tempting to refuse. He made friends for life at Dundalk and it was hard to tell Stephen Kenny he was leaving; 2016 will always be special to him; he smiles as he reflects on the stand-out memories.
The huddle in Warsaw where he could barely hear himself speak. The equaliser in Alkmaar and celebrating in front of an away crowd that included friends and family. He went on holidays in Las Vegas when it all ended and it was only then that the scale of the achievement sank in.
"It was such a mental time that we probably didn't appreciate it enough," he says. "There's little things we will all remember."
The little things made his new Lilywhite employers the right fit. Personal touches have made the bedding-in process straightforward. When Hemmings learned that Hayley was unwell, he called the hotel to ensure a doctor was sent around.
Grayson impressed both players by indicating they would come straight into his plans, and Boyle appreciates that the player-centric workplace allows them to concentrate on self-improvement. He will never bad-mouth his old environment, but he has realised he now operates in a different world. There are obvious contrasts.
In Dundalk, he was full-time but trained in the evenings so his days consisted of gym work and then waiting around to drive up the M1 for a 6.0pm start.
Preston is the first place where he has trained in the mornings and, if he hasn't eaten already, there is a chef on hand ready to prepare any breakfast he wants.
There's a gym on site, multiple masseurs and fresh training gear.
"At home, I'm sure most players wash their own gear and bring it to training. Here, you leave your boots there. The only thing you have to bring in with you is your washbag and even that's optional," he laughs.
Training starts at 10.30 and lasts for no more than 75 minutes. After that it's gym work.
"You're probably finished by 1.0 latest and then off you pop," he says. The free time in the afternoon will be a novelty.
Going through the experience with Horgan has helped, much as the rest of the dressing-room have made the newcomers feel welcome.
"I know you probably hear that from everyone but genuinely they've been really good," Boyle asserts.
Some of the pros who have spent their whole career in a cosseted lifestyle were amused by his surprise when he boarded the bus to Burton Albion last Sunday.
He was accustomed to travelling to games in a more basic vehicle. Preston's luxury coach is equipped with TV screens so they can watch live football along the way. The kitchen down the back was an unexpected bonus.
"I was saying this was all new to us to a few of lads and they were giggling away because they'd had that since U-16s," he explains.
The Irish contingent knew where he was coming from, and they have followed his football progress too, whereas the Dundalk pair's names meant nothing to some of the other players. In training, they've had a point to prove.
"You've to make an impression as quickly as possible and gain respect," says Boyle.
The indications are that the League of Ireland graduates are succeeding in that task.
"I always had the self-belief that I was capable of playing a higher level. Whatever that level is, well, everyone hits their limit at some stage, don't they? But hopefully I haven't found it yet."
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