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First night nerves are over as Conor is ready to deliver

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Conor Hourihane in training (c) with Enda Stevens and Shaun Williams at the Cardiff City Stadium yesterday

Conor Hourihane in training (c) with Enda Stevens and Shaun Williams at the Cardiff City Stadium yesterday

Conor Hourihane in training (c) with Enda Stevens and Shaun Williams at the Cardiff City Stadium yesterday

The club career of Conor Hourihane has been a bit of a slog, more than half of his nine seasons as a professional spent in England's second and third divisions.

International football hasn't exactly been plain sailing for the 27-year-old, though. He has won five senior caps since his debut last year and in those five games Ireland have managed no wins, one measly draw and scored only one goal.

He even admits that his debut - something that should have been the stuff dreams are made of - was, in the end, a bit of a nightmare as nerves made sure that the game passed him by. But the Cork native says he's now more mature and better prepared to deal with what might come in Cardiff this evening as Hourihane is one of a batch of midfielders currently living on the fringes but who will have come come centre-stage in Cardiff. And deliver.

No Brady, no McCarthy, no Rice, no Arter, no McClean: that leaves gaping holes in the Irish midfield so it will be up to someone like Hourihane, Daryl Horgan or Shaun Williams to step up.

"I managed to get five caps, played in the play-off final, so I have played in big games and I'd like to think that makes me better equipped to handle it," says the former Ipswich player, currently at Aston Villa.

"That (Ireland debut) was the biggest game of my career, people dream of their international debut and since then I have played in big games, the Birmingham-Villa derby, the play-off final and I feel more equipped for the next time I get a chance."

His first experience of the senior Ireland squad was as an unused sub for the scoreless draw with Wales, the night that Seamus Coleman's leg was shattered by Neil Taylor.

Hourihane was given a debut, and a starting role, four days later at home to Iceland but that awful game, with the dark cloud of Coleman's injury overhanging, was not a good night for Hourihane.

Occasion

"I dreamed of that night for a long, long time and when it came, looking back now, it was such a big occasion for myself," he says. "Even walking out and hearing the national anthem, I thought 'wow, I have finally got here' and it did pass me by.

"I have learned from it, I feel good in training, I am grateful to Martin and I have five caps now but I want to make my mark and repay the faith Martin showed in me over the last year or so.

"Martin will have his thoughts on how players did at club level, how they did last year you have to be ready.

"It's a fresh start now, a fresh campaign and I have to be ready now when I get my chance. I want to grab every opportunity I can get. I want to repay Martin for the faith he has shown me over the last 12 months. Just be ready for it really and hopefully I get the nod," he added, proud of the route he's taken, via the depths of League Two.

"Some lads take an easier road, a Jeff Hendrick or a Robbie Brady who have always been at that level, credit to them.

"People like myself and John Egan have had to go down the leagues to come back up. I wouldn't change it for the world. I always had aspirations and never gave up when I went to League One and League Two.

"I always fought to come back to this level and luckily enough I'm here but I'm not satisfied just to be here. I want to make an impact. I've had to work hard, be patient, take knock-backs but it just makes you stronger and I'm really grateful to be here."


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