FOOTBALL: Patrick McEleney thriving on challenge to fill Daryl Horgan's boots
PATRICK McEleney is confident he can help fill the huge midfield void left by the departure of star man, Daryl Horgan as he targets another League of Ireland winners' medal in 2017 with Dundalk.
With Horgan joining Championship outfit, Preston North End and Ronan Finn returning to Shamrock Rovers, McEleney knows there will be greater responsibility placed on his shoulders this year.
Both those players were central to Dundalk’s success over the last couple of seasons while Horgan, in particular, was outstanding during the Lilywhites’ historic UEFA Europa League campaign.
It’s not an unfamiliar situation for McEleney, however, who was brought to Oriel Park from Derry City as a direct replacement for Richie Towell at the start of the 2016 Airtricity League season.
He certainly rose to the challenge and bedded in seamlessly with what many regard as the League of Ireland’s greatest ever team who were just one round away from the group stages of the Champions League - losing to Legia Warsaw in the play-off.
The Derry man reckons he will ‘thrive’ on the pressure and the daunting challenge to fill the boots of a man who was so instrumental in Dundalk’s title success last year, netting 10 goals along the way.
And while he knows he must improve on last season’s performances despite being named in the PFAI’s Airtricity Premier Division Team of the Year, he’s prepared to meet the challenge head on.
“I know for sure it’s going to mean there’s bigger responsibility on me,” said McEleney. “I felt as if I did well last year for my first season at the club. It couldn’t have gone any better in some aspects.
“But there’s obviously room for improvement. I know myself if I have that extra responsibility I can carry it.
“At Derry at times I did well when I was trying to be a leader on the pitch, so I’m pretty sure I can do it again with Dundalk.
“There will be a lot of doubters which was the same for me last year. When Richie Towell left everybody doubted me. So I’ve always thrived on things like that.
“It gives you a bit more drive within yourself to get better. This year there will be a bigger responsibility on me and I’m looking forward to the challenge and I will meet it face on!
“Whenever everyone is depending on you and all eyes are on you at times you have to be prepared for it.
“There’s a lot of quality at Dundalk, don’t get me wrong, but I know there will be more responsibility for me.”
McEleney left his hometown club with a ‘heavy heart’ after six years service as he went in search of trophies and a new challenge with the Co. Louth outfit, managed by his former City boss, Stephen Kenny.
He picked up his first Airtricity Premier Division winners’ medal last November as Dundalk incredibly made it three-in-a-row.
However, that success has just given him the appetite for more and he’s confident Kenny can lead the club to yet another title and another successful European campaign.
“We’ll definitely be up there challenging again,” he said. “I know the boys (Horgan, Andy Boyle and Finn) are a massive loss to us. They were outstanding for us but I’m sure the gaffer will bring in new players. He’s done it every year. He always comes up with the right answers and we definitely don’t doubt him or doubt ourselves for a second. I’m pretty sure we’ll be up there challenging this season as well.”
He hasn’t had much time to reflect on his title success due to Dundalk’s extended run in the Europa League group stages. He’s only had a few week’s break since their season came to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel at the beginning of December which saw them finish bottom of Group D. But ‘Fats’ claims he’s hungry for more success and can’t wait until the new season kicks-off next month.
“It is a bit strange (having league winners’ medal). I’ve only really had time to reflect on it this past two weeks or so coming into the new season, thinking I’ve won the league. But the hunger is still there.
“I’ve been training this past 10 days or so. I’m just getting myself ready to go down again for pre-season.
“We had a few weeks off but it flew in to be honest.”
Dundalk boss, Kenny claims his target for next season is making it into the Champions League Group stages and while McEleney shares that lofty ambition, the Shantallow man knows the club will face a tough enough task retaining their title this year.
“He’s (Kenny) always aimed for the top in everything he can achieve. We were just off the Champions League last year and that’s going to be his target of course but we are going to have new players and will have to get together in pre-season and get fitter and stronger and get a run of games before Europe comes up.
“I think the main thing, if you were to ask him, would be to retain the league. We’ll be going for that. We’ve lost a few players and Cork have strengthened what they had. Rovers as well and Derry had an unbelievable year last year. So it’s going to be really tight.
“A lot of the teams have beaten each other a lot throughout the year, home and away. We’ll definitely be putting a challenge in and won’t be dropping our standards. That won’t happen and I’m just looking forward to the season now.”