"Champions League is the pinnacle" - Hoban ready for Qarabag

23rd November 2023

Patrick Hoban posed a confident figure in the press conference in Oriel Park yesterday, the Dundalk leading scoring is however fully aware of what awaits him when he crossed the white lines of Oriel Park today.  Qarabag, the league champions of Azer

Patrick Hoban posed a confident figure in the press conference in Oriel Park yesterday, the Dundalk leading scoring is however fully aware of what awaits him when he crossed the white lines of Oriel Park today. 

Qarabag, the league champions of Azerbaijan are not to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination. Their European pedigree and record are there for all to see, Dundalk will need to be on top to go toe to toe with the men from the east. 

Flying home on their ninety seater plane out of Riga last week the mood was joyful but attentions quickly moved to Qarabag as soon as the plane's wheels touched off Latvian soil. 

“After the game, everyone was buzzing, obviously yo get through in the fashion that we did everyone was ecstatic. It was a great feeling because I cannot remember the last time I won a penalty shoot-out. 

"I was saying earlier on Patrick McEleney said to me he las lost his last three penalty shoot outs in the FAI Cup too so to win a penalty shoot-out in the fashion that we did and the scale of what we did it was a great feeling."

“But I think once we got back on the plane it was like back down to earth again and we were focusing straight away on Qarabag because we were watching them on the laptop on the plane so straight away back on it.”

“After the Riga game obviously it was a massive high you are through to the next round and you are buzzing but once you got back on the plane, you know were knew we had Qarabag and we were all hovering over Rhuairdi Higgins watching Qarabag and you can just see the quality of football that they play. 

"They play fast-flowing attacking football but they do also have their weaknesses we working on it during the week but we had to make sure to exploit them but we have to be patient tomorrow.”

While the players rushed to Gary Rogers and Sean Hoare following the final whistle, Hoban stayed behind, true to his character and captaining the side that night Hoban shook hands with the Riga players and staff before heading off to celebrate with his team-mates, he has been in Riga’s shoes before and knows the pain all too well. 

“Yea its a cruel game, it's not a nice way to lose football, I have been on the receiving end plenty of times of it so I know what the feeling is like missing penalties too it messes with your mind and I felt bad for them too. But there has to be a winner and thankfully it was us.”

Today will see a different game to that Dundalk fans sat down to witness against Riga two weeks ago in Oriel Park, tactically solid and hard-working Riga were difficult to break down over the two games, Hoban is aware that while Qarabag will be more open to playing it does have it’s risks and pitfalls. 

“They do leave spaces but they are so good on the ball too you have to give them that respect as well but not too much at home. We have done a lot of work during the week, we have been drilled with every little bit of detail. 

"Everyone needs to be on 100% tomorrow because if you are not you will get punished it's as simple as in Europe. You will get punished in hight quality attacking football that these sides have but they do have their weaknesses they leave space and hopefully, we can exploit that tomorrow.”

In 2016, Hoban was no different than any other Dundalk fan, perched on his sofa in Mansfield following his move from Oxford United, wearing his EA Sports Cup Final jersey he watched the events unfold from the Dublin Arena with Dundalk taking on Legia Warsaw in the Champions League playoff - a game he felt Dundalk were robbed of a chance to qualify. 

“I was on top of it all yeah, I was watching the game in the Aviva against Legia, I was so angry watching that game because they got robbed in my opinion they played very well in that game. 

"But yeah I kept on top of it all, this town grabs onto the dream of Europa and Champions League Football and you can see it even being around the town it grabs their imagination. The older generation and the younger generation is buzzing around the town so hopefully, we can stick to our jobs tonight and get a result.

“I was watching the whole team as I was only gone a year and a half then it was great to watch it, Dundalk had a very good attacking football back then and they a lot of very good players as well and they played very good football and I thought every result that they got they deserved actually they were unlucky not to get through the Europa League I thought. 

"I thought they should have beat Zenit at home but look that’s just the way it goes in Europe you get punished but yeah it was great to watch.”

Despite all this success as a Dundalk player, last week was his first Champions League outing with the club having played in the Europa League qualifiers previously for the club in both 2014 and 2018. The competition is second to none in the eyes of the striker. 

“Champions League football is one of the best competitions you can play in, the only thing that beats it is international football. 

"It's like the pinnacle of your career, you play maybe two to three hundred League of Ireland games but you only get to play a handful of Champions League games so you have to grab it with both hands and you have to make sure you are one hundred per cent on it too because if not you will get punished and we need to make sure we are on it tomorrow.”

Hoban arrived back to Dundalk in 2018 with the dawn of a new era at the club, new owners Peak6 successful took over the club weeks after Hoban put pen to paper to a new deal at the club that saw him return to Oriel. With new owners comes new expectations and demands. Hoban maintains that ambition, drive and demands are not coming from outside of the dressing room but also inside it. 

“When I came back to the club Cork won the league the year before and they won it by a fair distance and they won the FAI Cup as well so when I came back the aim was it was obviously to do well in Europe but it was to win the league as well.

“But the club does have high ambitions to do well in Europe but its the same for every player in there. 

"Everyone wants to play in Europe, there is going to be a lot of disappointed lads tomorrow as well who are not going to feature or be in the eleven but that is part and parcel of the game, everyone loves playing in Europe, its a dream. 

"It is probably the biggest games you will play in your career and coming back here I knew we were going to have a chance to be in Europe and that was a massive factor too.”