DFC | I Am Legend: The unknown from Mervue who has become one of Dundalk FC’s greatest ever players

There was little fanfare when Patrick Hoban signed for Dundalk FC in December 2012 but, just 109 league games later, he has staked a claim to be considered as one of the club’s greatest ever players

I remember it well. A cold, bleak December evening, a week or so before Christmas 2012, shortly after Stephen Kenny was unveiled as the new Dundalk manager.

Before the days of Twitter and Facebook unveilings, the local media would be informed about new signings and, with that, I was summoned, along with Terry Conlon from The Argus, to Oriel Park to chat to some of Kenny’s new additions.

Three faces greeted us in the boardroom. One, the smiling Keith Ward, was very familiar, while his appearance for Shelbourne in the 2011 FAI Cup final made the second, Andy Boyle, vaguely familiar. The third, however, a fresh-faced youngster wearing a questionable cheque shirt, was a complete unknown.

With Kenny running fashionably late, General Manager at the time, Paul Johnston, gave me the heads up and after a quick and somewhat unsuccessful Google search, I sat down with Patrick Hoban and rolled the tape. “Pat or Patrick?”, I asked. “Patrick,” he replied. Since then, I’ve rarely used the shortened version on the hundreds of occasions I’ve typed his name.

Brief spells at Bristol City and Mervue United meant that background information was hard to come by and I recall asking him if a line on the web report describing him as a central midfielder was accurate. The smile in response told me everything.

Little did I know…

Hoban spoke about his time at Bristol, describing how he drove alone, full of enthusiasm, from his home in the Galway town of Loughrea to catch the ferry to Holyhead that took to him to England in July 2010.

After a season at Ashton Gate, he made the return journey, devastated after being released. A rebuilding stage followed under Johnny Glynn at Mervue United where he played alongside a certain John Mountney.

Little did they know….

“I’m confident I can play at this standard,” he told me. “Mervue played Derry City (managed by Kenny) last year and we got trounced 7–1 but I think I played well in that game and I feel ready for this level.”

Despite his self-belief, Hoban started the season as the third favourite, behind Kurtis Byrne and Vinny Faherty, to top the scoring charts at Oriel Park but after a slow start, which saw him take time to adjust to top-flight football, the goals started to come.

The first, ironically enough, came against Cork City at Oriel Park on Friday, April 26th 2013, Remember the date. After coming on as a 69th-minute sub, Hoban headed home in the final minute after Ward’s free-kick had come back off the bar. “A good striker’s goal,” was his description afterwards. The 2–0 victory secured Kenny his first win at Oriel Park at the sixth time of asking.

A further 13 league goals followed including the winner against Drogheda United, a brace against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel, a hat-trick against Bohemians and a stunning overhead kick against the Leesiders in the return game that October.

Individual awards, such as the SWAI Player of the Month for July and PFAI Player and Young Player of the Year nominations, arrived his way and Hoban was named on the PFAI Team of the Year. After just one season at Oriel Park, ‘The Hobantor’ was one of the shining lights of the Kenny era.

“I’m over the moon but I have to keep level headed,” he told me in October 2013. “Obviously, my parents and family are absolutely delighted. This year has been a dream and it’s definitely been, by far, the best year of my career.

“Getting things like the Player of the Month, being on the FIFA 14 cover, fans singing my name with ‘The Hobanator’ song, they’re things I’ve always dreamed about and it’s coming true here.”

If 2013 was special, it was eclipsed by 2014 as Dundalk were crowned champions for the first time in 19 years with a thrilling victory over Cork City on the final day of the season.

The records started to tumble as the season approached a cliff-hanging climax. A brace against Athlone Town in Lissywoollen on October 10th saw Hoban overtake Peter Hanrahan’s club record of 18 Premier Division goals, set in the title-winning campaign of 1990–91, and go level with Liam Munroe, who scored 19 in the 1959–60 season.

The one that set him apart from the rest, his 20th and final goal of a memorable year, was perhaps his most crucial, a stunning half-volley against Bray Wanderers in Dundalk’s penultimate game at The Carlisle Grounds.

On a night when a biblical downpour, coupled with a ferocious wind, battered the Wicklow coast, Hoban came up trumps again, darting to the near post to hammer home a Darren Meenan cross and secure a precious point. Seven nights later, Dundalk beat Cork City in front of 5,300 supporters to become champions of Ireland.

We know what we are….

Hoban celebrated wildly, embracing teammates and staff as the party got into full swing. Sipping on a well-earned bottle of beer, with a league winners medal draped proudly around his neck, he sat down in the away dressing-room afterwards, sheltered momentarily from the madness outside, to try and put things into words.

“I took a massive chance coming to Dundalk,” he said. “I drove up here twice before I signed just to look around and, to be honest, I was very undecided. When I did sign, I remember looking at an article that somebody wrote saying that if I was the kind of player that Dundalk were signing then they had no chance of winning anything but I think I’ve proven people wrong.”

He described it as “the stuff of dreams” but was also honest enough to admit that he fancied another crack at the UK and less than a month later, he was on his way to Oxford United.

His place in the pantheon of the all-time greats was already enshrined at this stage but, for some reason, his return to Dundalk in the winter of 2017, after a poor spell in the UK, was met with mixed reviews. ‘Yesterday’s man. ‘Damaged goods.’ ‘We’ve moved on.’

Perhaps it was his absence from the Richie Towell inspired double-winning side of 2015 or the heroics of David McMillan and Daryl Horgan that fuelled the European run a year later, but for the second time in his career, Hoban pulled on a Dundalk shirt with a point to prove.

A league and FAI Cup winners medal, along with an unsurpassed haul of 29 Premier Division goals, should have silenced any critics but even as recently as the defeat to Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds, Hoban was still the target of criticism from some sections of the club’s support.

They should know better…

Hoban’s response? A 95th-minute winning penalty against Bohemians, another against UCD and a goal and captain’s display in the win over Shamrock Rovers on Friday, April 26th 2019 (remember the date?) — a game which saw him become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with a staggering return of 70 goals in just 109 league games. The stuff of legends.

The man who held the record previously, the late, great Joey Donnelly, set the bar in a different era. A native of the town, Donnelly scored his first goal for the club in 1929 with his last coming in January 1943. In all, his career at Oriel spanned 16 years where he clocked up 238 league games across two spells.

Donnelly’s bio on the website — Jim Murphy’s invaluable online database of players to wear the white shirt — starts with a question asking if he’s the greatest footballer ever to come from Dundalk?

Hoban’s entry has yet to be written but surely now he has earned the right for us to ask a similar question: Patrick Hoban — the greatest footballer ever to play for Dundalk?

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