Target Achieved – Hirst Discusses Successful Portsmouth Spell
Although the team fell short of their play-off target, finishing 10th, Hirst delivered goal upon goal for the third-tier outfit in 2022, stretching his tally to 13 across the campaign - 15 in all competitions - adding three assists and making a total of 40 appearances in Sky Bet League 1.
Following a difficult time at Rotherham United in the Championship the previous year, the forward was desperate to gain more Football League experience and, reflecting on the move, revealed this week that he felt comfortable making the switch to League 1.
“Coming off the back of last season at Rotherham, it was quite a tough year for myself,” the former OH Leuven striker admitted to LCFC.com. “I perhaps didn’t play as much as I would have liked, so for me going into this season it was just about going somewhere where I felt I was going to get the game time.
“And then hopefully the goals would come with it, so I set myself a target of 15 goals and that was always my target from the get-go really. It was just about getting more senior minutes under my belt and really trying to establish myself in the team.
In Carabao Cup action against Millwall at The Den back in October.
“I was in a position where I just wanted to play. Going to League 1 it was probably the perfect time for me to showcase my ability and show everyone what I can do. I feel like I did that on the most part.”
Feeling right at home on the south coast, Hirst blossomed during the second half of the campaign, with all but two of his goals netted after the turn of the year. Getting into a rhythm post-Christmas, his minutes increased, becoming a regular starter in Danny Cowley’s side.
“It was a tough start,” he admitted. “Being quite a long way away, settling in and getting to know all the boys, once I felt I got my head around that, it was about getting in the team and trying to score as many goals as possible.
“I always I believed, I knew myself that once I got the chance to go out there and play regular games and get the minutes in, it was the first time I had played consistently for just over a year. I’d not played since I was last at Leicester in the Under-23s.
It was brilliant, not only to prove to myself that I can do it, but to prove to everybody else and I’m good enough to score the goals. It was a real confidence booster.George Hirst LCFC.com
“It was a weird feeling, and it took a bit of time getting my body used to it, but with the return on the goals and 13 out of the 15 goals coming post January, I felt once I got in the team, then I really made my mark and settled in. It just seemed to make everything a lot easier.
“I always scored goals at youth level but I’m sure there were people saying that I’ve not done it at first-team level, which is completely understandable, because this time last year it was the case.
“For me to go to Portsmouth and finish the season strongly and to score that many goals, it was brilliant, not only to prove to myself that I can do it, but to prove to everybody else and I’m good enough to score the goals. It was a real confidence booster. When you’re playing with that sort of confidence, it can only help your development even more.”
An important stage of his growth as an emerging talent, Hirst's performances also received widespread adulation from the Pompey faithful, who the 23-year-old praised for their backing throughout the campaign. The Sheffield-born forward is now ready to hit the ground running when pre-season starts.
The young forward was a regular goalscorer for Leicester City's Development Squad prior to his loan moves.
"To get experience at a team the size of Portsmouth was amazing,” the ex-England youth international explained. “I’m forever grateful to them for the opportunity to go and pull their shirt on and play in front of the local fans every week because they were brilliant with me. Having 20,000 at Fratton Park has just made me so hungry for more of it.
“From start to finish, they gave me all their support. When they are on your side, there’s no better feeling. It was almost like the break came at a bad time for me really. If the season had carried on from now until Christmas, then I would have been pretty happy.
“Now it’s just about keeping fit and getting back to Leicester, seeing what happens in the summer and trying to show the best version of myself when I go back. It’s been a good off-season so far. I’ve done my running and enjoyed some time off.
“It’s crazy for a footballer during the season, but I can’t wait to get back at it now, get back into the swing of things and get going again.”
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