As his new Hibs team-mates jet out to Norway today ahead of Thursday’s showdown with Molde, Daryl Horgan will be left home alone with his own memories of big nights in Europe.
Although the Republic of Ireland midfielder’s move from Preston North End to Easter Road went through in time to allow him to make his Premiership debut against St Johnstone in Perth on Sunday afternoon, it came after Uefa’s signing deadline for the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Hibs travel to Norway having been held to a scoreless draw in the first leg, but while helpless as Neil Lennon’s side seek the away goals which will take them through to a play-off against either Dinamo Minsk or Zenit St Petersburg, Horgan claimed his experience of such matches with Dundalk was evidence enough that “anything can happen”.
Along with former Hibs midfielder Dean Shiels, Horgan was a member of the Dundalk side which defied the odds to reach the play-off stage of the Champions League a couple of years ago, defeat by Legia Warsaw catapulting them into the group stages of the Europa League and pitching them against AZ Alkmaar, Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Zenit.
But while such opposition proved too tough at the end of the day, Horgan insists the highs far outweighed that disappointment. “Every one of those memories in Europe with Dundalk is special,” he said. “The Champions League qualifier against BATE Borisov at home in Tallaght was incredible, beating them 3-0.
“We lost 1-0 over there but getting through we knew we were at least assured group-stage football in the Europa League. It was an amazing feeling.
“We beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv and got a last-minute equaliser at AZ Alkmaar – these are unbelievable moments. It was an incredible time to be playing for Dundalk.”
The group stage of this year’s competition is the stated goal of manager Lennon and Horgan revealed he has every faith the Easter Road side can take a further step towards that target.
He said: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a tough tie away from home but Hibs have already done brilliantly. A lot of people would have written them off against Asteras Tripolis but to get through that was unreal and then they got a good result at home to Molde.
“Nick a goal away in Norway and the whole tie changes. Anything is possible. You just have to play well on the day and, although the styles clash sometimes, there isn’t that much of a jump. Going into a game balanced at 0-0, it’s just about who is better on the day.
“I’m sure the boys don’t need me to tell them how special a European run could be. They will be all guns blazing over there. You’d like to hope there’s an opportunity to be part of something like that again – we’re only three games away from the group stage.”
Horgan’s European exploits helped pave the way for his move to Lancashire along with team-mate Andy Boyle, but he found himself slipping out of Preston manager Alex Neil’s plans, a situation which led to a summer of speculation linking him with a switch to Edinburgh, where Lennon has been a long-time admirer of the 26-year-old.
The midfielder, who has signed a three-year deal, said: “There was a lot of talk about this move and it looked like it was going to happen in June, but it was stopped. It was a move I was really interested in from the start of the summer.
“I always kept an eye on Hibs and the way they’ve gone about their business in the last year has been really impressive.
“They are a club looking to compete at the top end of the table and play European football, so that was a huge draw.”