Saturday 20 January 2018

Hoban aims to make step up as Under-21 career finishes

Watford’s Ireland Under-21 captain Tommie Hoban
Watford’s Ireland Under-21 captain Tommie Hoban

The plan, for defender Tommie Hoban, is to be a Premier League player with Watford and a member of the senior Ireland squad this time next year.

Now 22, Hoban has been around long enough to know that things don't always go to plan. Having made his debut for Watford as a 17-year-old, he'd have hoped that in the five years which followed he'd have established himself, but that's yet to happen.

Just two weeks ago, the Ireland U21 cap was on the bench for a Premier League game against Chelsea, now he finds himself thrown into a battle at the bottom of England's second tier, on loan to relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers.

There's also been a disappointment at international level: a year ago, Hoban was captain of an Ireland U21 side which had their best-ever start to a Euro qualifying campaign, two wins and two clean sheets (against Andorra), only for things to slide to the extend where Noel King's side are just playing for pride in the three remaining qualifiers, starting at home (in Waterford) to Slovenia tomorrow night (7.45pm).

Two U21 games in the next few days puts Hoban back on the stage Ireland-wise - Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane plan to attend tomorrow's game in the RSC - and football with Blackburn, on loan, also affords him a chance to achieve his goals.

"This is my last campaign with the U21s, the aim now has to be to make it into the senior squad and I will do all I can to make that happen," Hoban told The Herald.

"Seeing lads like Shane Duffy go from the U21s into the senior team makes you think that if you're good enough, you'll get your chance. I know you need to be playing regularly at club level to make that happen, so I hope that a run of games with Blackburn now will do me good in the long run.

"I do want to be in the Premier League with Watford and I want to be in the senior Ireland squad, but I need to work hard to make that happen," added Hoban, who is highly-rated by Watford and under contract there for another three years, the defender joining Blackburn on a season-long loan last week (with the option of returning to Watford in January).

"This is the first time I have left Watford so it's hard to get used to a new experience but I am just happy to be back fit and have the chance to play in a few games this season."

Hoban helped Watford get to the Premier League (30 appearances in the promotion-winning season of 20/14/15) but has yet to feature in the top flight due to injury. He also missed a chunk of the U21s' qualifiers.

"The U21 campaign started well but it's not gone as we'd planned," he says.

"We have some very tough sides in our group and it was always going to be a big ask to qualify, it's disappointing to be out of contention with three games left but we can make a statement about ourselves in the games remaining, starting tomorrow at home and we want to finish off the campaign strongly," says Hoban, who qualifies via his Dublin-born mother while there's also a Irish connection on his dad's side.

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