Sunday 20 May 2018

City slicker Hourihan intent on boosting Irish World Cup quest

Hourihan:
Hourihan: "At some clubs, goalkeepers get comfortable and don’t like the competition but I can deal with pressure." Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Having chosen to sign for Chelsea and then Manchester City, Marie Hourihan was never fazed by challenges and faced another one at international level by vying with Emma Byrne to be Ireland's No 1.

The English-born stopper had represented her homeland at U-23 level but Ireland boss Colin Bell made it an immediate priority to approach her upon his appointment in February and neither have looked back since.

Hourihan was a week short of her 30th birthday when making her senior debut and wasn't to know after the clean sheet against Hungary that first-choice Byrne was contemplating retirement.

The veteran stopper stuck around to conquer her last battle of attaining equal rights for the squad from the FAI but bowed out just weeks before last month's opening World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland.

Stepping into the void left by the 134-times-capped skipper and Champions League winner, the custodian of the position for 21 years, put the spotlight on the newcomer and she thrived by keeping her part of the bargain in a 2-0 victory.

Today, she wins her second competitive cap against Slovakia in Senec (4.30, Irish time). Hourihan insists the experience of previous decisions have made mentally strong. She shunned the chance of remaining at English league champions Chelsea in 2015 to join the Manchester City revolution and was vindicated last year by her club claiming a domestic treble.

At City, she's had to compete with England regular Karen Bardsley and the teenager tipped to eventually succeed her, Ellie Roebuck, but still managed to start their most recent league game against Everton.

Amid all those contests, perseverance has eventually stood to Hourihan. "Everywhere I've gone, there's been a competition for the No 1 place," she explained. "At some clubs, goalkeepers get comfortable and don't like the competition but I can deal with pressure.

"Getting to play with some of the best players in the world at City has helped me deal with different situations.

"Emma Byrne is a legend of the game, not just in Ireland but also for what she achieved at Arsenal, and filling the big boots is a challenge I've enjoyed so far."

IRELAND (probable) - M Hourihan (Manchester City); H Scott (Reading), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), M Campbell (Manchester City); N Fahey (Bordeaux), K Duggan (UCD Waves); K McCabe (Glasgow City), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), L Kiernan (Shelbourne); R Littlejohn (Celtic).

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