A hat-trick against Hartlepool United or a strike against Italian giants AS Roma? For Aaron Drinan of Leyton Orient, there was no contest.
The Irishman put in a five-star performance as the East Londoners vanquished Hartlepool United 5-0 to move back inside the Play-Off places in the Sky Bet League Two standings, grabbing his first senior treble and two further assists.
And the O’s joint leading marksman sits alongside Jack Grealish and Harry Kane as one of five players to have a hand in five goals in a single game during the 2021/22 season.
“People are telling me I need to get one of those glass cases for the ball but to be fair, at the minute, it’s just in one of my lockers!” he smiled.
Deep into injury time, Drinan put the icing on the cake to complete his hat-trick. But it was his second strike that stole the show, after capitalising on Pools shot-stopper Jonathan Mitchell’s goalkeeping blunder.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “As soon as he panic kicked it to me, it was instinct really. It was one of those you try and train for when the ‘keeper is off his line and you just go for it. Getting your first professional hat-trick is something I’m absolutely buzzing about, and a couple of the goals were good as well. We got a 5-0 win and we’ve moved up the table.
“Previous to the Hartlepool game, in the last two or three I was on the bench. It’s annoying when you’re not playing but I try not to get down on myself and beat myself up. You just need to stay positive and staying positive worked wonders last weekend.”
His performance earned him a place in the FIFA Team of the Week, and he’d still take scoring a treble against Hartlepool in League Two with Leyton Orient over netting against AS Roma for Cork City in the UEFA Youth League any day.
“Scoring then was unbelievable, when you’re that age playing Roma, who were something like the second-best team in that European league that we were in but scoring three against Hartlepool tops that,” he added.
The well-travelled attacker arrived in the EFL in January 2018, penning terms with Sky Bet League One side Ipswich Town.
Loan spells back to Ireland, a move to the Swedish second-tier and a short stint with Sutton United in the National League followed, but temporary transfers took their toll, along with the departure of former boss Mick McCarthy, who brought Drinan to the Club.
“It’s the move I’ve been looking for and it came at the right time in my career,” he continued. “I wanted to go to that one Club where I’d play and play as many games as I can to do well and get a bit of momentum. It’s really important. That’s the one thing I didn’t feel I got at Ipswich where I was finishing out games and getting 90 minutes, then playing 90 minutes again the next week.
“Before, I’ve been going on six-month loans where you’re playing for a small while and that’s it and you’re going back to Ipswich and going out on loan again. I didn’t feel it was the best thing for me but at the time, I had to deal with that.”
As a collective, Drinan and his team-mates only have eyes for promotion, with the O’s unbeaten in their last five and looking to build on an emphatic display over Hartlepool when League action resumes next weekend.
“It’s a very physical, tough league. I’ve only played in League One and that’s what I’ve been basing it off. Hard work is the number one thing. We’d probably like to have two or three more wins. We went on a couple of runs where we drew four or five in a row. We can’t be too hard on ourselves with where we are in sixth.”
The 23-year-old has his sights set on the golden boot no less, having set himself a target of hitting double digits for the current campaign. Drinan is just four strikes away from reaching his objective, with six League goals to his name and counting, although he faces strong competition for the gong.
One-third of way through the season, the forward has formed a bond with another of Orient’s summer signings – a combination which is proving to be a fruitful pairing.
“Between me and Harry Smith up front, Harry has seven in the League, so we have a nice tally and we’ll be looking to continue adding to that.
“I’ve got seven now in all competitions, so I’d like to think that I’m on my way,” he explained. “Overall, in League Two, top goal-scorer is what I’m aiming for at the end of the season. You have to aim big!”