Saturday 29 April 2017

Off the Ball: This is the story of the Hourihane

Barnsley's Conor Hourihane could be off to Aston Villa
Barnsley's Conor Hourihane could be off to Aston Villa

Nathan Murphy

Conor Hourihane is a player we've started to hear a lot about lately, having fallen off the radar for a number of years.

The Barnsley midfielder was one of the younger players to join the Irish revolution in Sunderland when he left west Cork in 2007 to work under his hero Roy Keane. Like any 16-year-old he went to the North East of England expecting that a career in the Premier League would follow, but as with so many young Irish players it wasn't to be.

He never made a senior appearance in three years at the Stadium of Light and when he again failed to make the breakthrough under Keane at Ipswich, Hourihane was at crossroads.

He chose the hard road, dropping down to League 2 to join Plymouth Argyle.

"Nobody dreams of playing in League 2, it was a tough decision to drop down but it was the only decision - at Ipswich as a 19-year-old I just wasn't ready for it," he told us.

Hourihane is ready for it now. Last season he scored 10 goals from midfield on the way to captaining Barnsley to victory in the League 1 play-off final, and the step up a division appears to have come easily to the 25-year-old, who has two goals in four Championship games and leading the stats for most successful tackles in the league.

He's got a little bit of everything: a sweet left foot that is lethal from set-pieces and he has an energy and physicality that managers appreciate.

It would be no surprise if he joined former underage team-mates Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick in Martin O'Neill squad for the upcoming friendly against Oman and the World Cup qualifier in Serbia.

In fact, at the rate Hourihane is progressing don't bet against the three of them lining up in the Ireland midfield before the end of the campaign.

Irish Independent

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