Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has hailed the impact that Patrick Hoban has made on his second coming at the club ahead of Tuesday night’s trip to Limerick.
The striker, who scored 20 times in Dundalk’s 2014 league title win, bagged his sixth goal in just nine starts with the opener against Bray Wanderers at The Carlisle Grounds on Friday evening.
Hoban returned to Dundalk in December after a disappointing time across the water which saw him endure frustrating spells at Oxford, Stevenage, Grimsby and Mansfield.
His last game in the UK took place on April 29th 2017 when he played in Mansfield’s 1–0 defeat to Portsmouth and even though he has started Dundalk’s last nine league matches, Kenny believes there is still a lot more to come from The Hobanator.
“Pat almost went a full calendar year without a competitive game,” said the Lilywhites manager. “He didn’t play in pre-season so it has been a big challenge for him to try and hit the ground running.
“He’s not where I think he can be yet but he’s still leading the line to great affect. He’s a very determined character and I knew that when I signed him.
“I feel he’ll get better overall,” he continued. “When he gets fitter, sharper and quicker he’ll be better, I feel. We threw him in at the deep end and that was a bit unfair to him. We had to do it out of necessity, really, so six goals is a great return.”
Plenty of question marks were raised about Dundalk’s attacking threat when David McMillan departed for St Johnstone in the winter after scoring 32 league goals in his final two seasons at the club.
However, those fears have been put to bed by Hoban’s return with Kenny’s side averaging almost two goals per game but the Dundalk boss said that he would have preferred if both players were a part of his squad this season.
“We’d have taken the two of them because you just never know,” he said. “David went very late in the day and Patrick was a terrific player for us when he was here the first time. He’s getting back to that, I feel, and when he gets fitter he’ll be better again.
“We still have things to learn,” he added. “We’re still working on combinations of who is playing with who and we haven’t got that quite right. You can’t say the balance is perfect at the minute and we still have a bit of work to do.”
After eventually seeing off basement side Bray on Friday, the form book suggests that Hoban and co will take another three points at the Markets Field on Tuesday night.
Limerick, who suffered an eight goal drubbing in the corresponding fixture back in February, have not won since March 9th, lost six of their last eight games in all competitions and sit second from bottom.
However, with a jam packed schedule to contend with, Dundalk are taking no chances and the squad travelled south on Monday to prepare for the fixture, their fourth of seven scheduled for this month alone.
“It’s going to be a very tough game,” said Kenny. “The pitch down there is going to be heavy and Limerick have had most of their good results at home. They’ve drawn with Cork there, beaten Bray there and I was at the 1–1 draw with Bohs. They’ve done well at home and we’ll have to get ready for it.
“We have a run of 12 games in 42 days,” he added. “It’s a run that challenges you not only physically and mentally but also with how you plan strategically and logistically. You have to plan very well.”
The return of John Mountney is a big shot in the arm for those plans. The midfielder sealed the win in Bray with a stoppage time goal and his manager is hoping that he can steer clear of the injuries that have disrupted the past 12 months.
“John had an an osteopubis injury and missed a lot of last year. It’s a really tough injury, which he picked up in the Europa League games. It was ongoing for him last season but he sorted it out in the middle of pre-season and then did his medial ligament against Drogheda.
“It has been a tough time for him so to come back and get a goal is a real boost for him. It’s credit to him. He’s a very dedicated lad and he gives you everything. He can play in different positions and is a very underrated player.”
Mountney is in line to start against The Blues tomorrow night but there are doubts over Krisztian Adorjan, who came off against Bray with a suspected concussion, while Karolis Chvedukas is still out with an ankle injury.
Goalkeeper Gary Rogers is also in line to make a return after missing the last three games with a calf injury and Sean Hoare is also in contention following his recovery from a groin strain.
Dundalk will line up against a familiar face in the Limerick midfield with Conor Clifford likely to keep his place in Tommy Barrett’s side after making his debut in Saturday night’s 2–1 defeat to Sligo Rovers.
Clifford was handed a six-month ban from all footballing activities in October after being found guilty of betting offences from his time playing in the UK, bringing his Dundalk career to a premature end.
Kenny admitted that an Oriel Park return was never really on the cards for Clifford but there was no hiding the positive vibes he gave off when he was asked about the 26-year-old’s return to action.
“I’m really delighted to see him back playing, really thrilled and I hope he does well,” said Kenny. “Midfield is an area where we just aren’t in a position to bring players in and Conor needs to go and play.
“The last thing he needs is to come into a squad and fight for his place and be at the back of a queue. At this stage of his career, he needs to go and play so it’s a great move for him and we wish him well.”
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