TWO OF THE Premier Division’s top marksmen face off as first meet second at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
And while Gary Twigg has only known success in the Airtricity League since arriving at Shamrock Rovers from Brechin City in 2009, Philly Hughes’ rise to prominence has taken awhile longer.
12 clubs in as many years (including stints with the now disbanded Dublin City and Kildare County) means the 31-year-old Shelbourne striker could be described as something of a journeyman.
He has always been rated as a prolific finisher in the First Division but three goals during stand-out performances in the opening three fixtures of the 2012 campaign have handed newly-promoted Shels an excellent start and brought Hughes into the limelight.
It’s gone great, you can’t ask for anymore than three goals,” he told TheScore yesterday. “All the better that we’ve been able to get good results.”
Only a late header from Jason McGuinness in the first game against Sligo has denied them taking the maximum nine points so far but an impressive seven leaves the north Dubliners level with Shamrock Rovers, St Pat’s and the Bit O’Red in the league.
“We felt we could be competitive without setting ourselves too many goals,” says Hughes. “So far it’s gone well. We’re not going to take too much from the wins but at the same time won’t beat ourselves up if things don’t go our way.”
Manager Alan Mathews has given Hughes the responsibility of leading the line as a lone front man, which, going by his displays, he seems to relish.
“I’ve no preference really,” is the reply when asked if he likes to play alongside a partner. “Alan plays the 4-5-1 but it’s not as if I’m up there on my own. It’s a very attacking system with players getting forward to support me.”
Hughes insists his nomadic existence hasn’t been a conscious decision and explains that he couldn’t be happier at the Tolka Park club which he joined from Monaghan United for a second spell in January 2011.
“I’ve settled at most clubs I’ve been at, to be honest. It just hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. I feel at home at here now though – it’s a great club.
I didn’t really play too much the first time around under Dermot Keely. I think I was suspended at the start of the season and when the chance to go on loan came up, I took it.”
The player, who says he is “100%” physically, is now reaping the benefits of starting consistently in the team for a prolonged period and is keen to continue his current form on his first visit to the home of last season’s champions.
“The atmosphere in training has been great during the week. I’ve only played Rovers in the First Division so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m sure they’ll have a huge crowd but we’ve nothing to fear.”