Dundalk will look to take another step towards putting the league title beyond any doubt when they take on Derry City at the Brandywell on Tuesday night although leading scorer Pat Hoban admits the atmosphere around the squad had been pretty celebratory since Friday's defeat of Cork City.
“Look, we’ve still got a job to do; we need three points, well four [Dundalk’s goal difference is 24 better] but there was definitely a sense the other night of getting one hand on the trophy,” says the 27-year-old who has played a key role in the team’s success this year. “The mood in the camp after the game, coming home, and in the training today [Monday] has been high. But it’s not quite done yet and we want to keep on winning games.”
Hoban, who has scored 24 league goals since returning at the start of the season, admits the season has exceeded his own expectations but the Galway man has reacted by raising the bar, targeting a league and cup double now with Friday’s semi-final against UCD potentially a stepping stone to either another clash with Cork or a meeting with Bohemians in early November.
“If we do make it through, either of them would be tough,” he says, “but I’d love to win the cup now. Back at the start of the season I said in an interview with James Rogers that the club was getting me in my prime and I felt I could score goals but I said I was getting the club at a good time too.
“At the time I just wanted to win the league and reckoned anything else would be a bonus but now that we’re almost there with the league, I’m desperate to win the cup. I’ve never played at the Aviva and to go there and win the competition would be an amazing end to the season.”
His achievements so far have attracted interest from England and further afield but Hoban, who has a year left on his contract, says he is focused solely on the Oriel Park outfit until somebody tells him there is a firm offer on the table. “I’ve heard the rumours but I have no idea what’s true and what’s not so you can’t worry about it. All I want to do for now is concentrate on leaving absolutely everything out on the pitch for Dundalk.”
Derry, as it happens, have done a better job than most at containing the striker this year with Hoban, who represents a third of his club’s total for the campaign, starting all three league encounters between the two clubs but only scoring one of the 10 Dundalk have managed.
Comfortably Derry’s best result was the 2-2 they managed on their last trip to Oriel Park, a game that came towards the end of a nine-match unbeaten run that included seven wins and propelled Kenny Shiels’ side into contention for Europe. Now without a point in their last four, that possibility is, bar Waterford being deemed ineligible due to its restructuring, well gone but Shiels insists that the club are moving in the right direction.
“We’re trying to rebuild again and people need to see what we are trying to achieve here at this club,” says Shiels whose side won the League Cup a couple of weeks ago but has not, he suggests had too much good fortune otherwise.
“I’m delighted at how we’re shaping up. In the last three games we have been magnificent so let’s take it on from there and not worry too much about Dundalk.”