Monday 14 October 2019

'It was probably the fear of failure, and not making it' - Conor Hourihane's battle to get to the top

Hourihane: keeping his eye on the ball. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Hourihane: keeping his eye on the ball. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It's the reaction you'd expect from a tough quizmaster at a table quiz who had nothing but a shrift of the shortest kind for a wrong answer.

Conor Hourihane has been asked by a member of the media if he's still finding his feet at international level after winning 13 caps. "It's 14 caps," the Aston Villa player says in the blinking of an eye.

Things like that matter to the player who is only now, at the age of 28, starting to really make his mark at Premier League and international levels.

Same with his well-earned boast that by scoring his first Premier League goal for Villa last weekend, he had achieved the feat of scoring in all four divisions in England.

Hourihane has worked hard to get where he is and speaking with soft, but focused tones he claims it's an innate hunger and desire that has taken him from where he was to where he is now, certain to start for his country in a Euro qualifier in Georgia on Saturday.

"I had a little bit of talent maybe, but hard work has got me through the leagues to where I am now, made the most of myself and will continue to do it," says Hourihane, a fringe player under Martin O'Neill, who has come to be a central figure under Mick McCarthy.

"I wasn't the most talented player in all the teams I played in. Plymouth? Probably not. Barnsley? Probably not, going back to Douglas Hall, Bandon, Cork, everything.

"I probably wasn't the most talented, but I definitely worked the hardest. It was probably the fear of failure, and not making it, and having to go back home and being that nearly man. It's still now, even though I'm playing international level and playing in the Premier League.

"To this day, I'm always worried about that person behind me. That's what drives me on every day.

"Listen, I've failed loads of times. It defines you as a character when you fail and how you bounce back. Some people shrink and don't fancy failing again. I'm not scared to fail again. And If I do, I'll come back again.

"I've had more tough days than good days in football, that's for sure, so it's just something I've had in my armoury over the years. It's probably a fantastic one to have as a lot of people can't overcome the failures and the setbacks."

Those setbacks saw Hourihane drop as low as you can go in senior football in England, the fourth tier, but he stayed on course and is now a Premier League player.

Even scoring that debut Premier League goal last week brought back memories of what it was like to be a young boy watching BBC1 on a Saturday night,

"In terms of Match of the Day, I was the first to watch it on Saturday night, scoring a goal. That's for sure," he says of his TV viewing last weekend. "I've waited for a moment like that for a while. I've waited a long time for the opportunity to get to the Premier League and I want to make the most of it."

International football was not easy for him at the start as it took the Cork native time to adjust.

"Early on it was something I always wanted to do and maybe it was a little bit big for me, or whatever, but as the caps have gone on, maybe into double figures or when I scored against Georgia, it felt like 'I am actually doing alright here'," Hourihane says.

Caution

The only player to have started every game under McCarthy, Hourihane will also be in the starting XI on Saturday, a change from Ireland's last trip to Tbilisi when he was an unused sub, though he sounds a note of caution from that role as a spectator.

"I was on the bench when Duffy scored. I was quite new to the squad. I was taking it all in," he says of Ireland's 1-1 draw there in 2015.

"We got off to a great start and then they took control of the game. They looked like a very good side.

"Even when they came to the Aviva recently we only won 1-0 so we know it's going to be a tough game without doubt. I don't think Georgia get the credit they deserve.

"They always cause teams problems. Denmark went there last trip and they drew 0-0 which shows you how good they are, at home especially. The last time we went there it was a very tough game for us."

Irish Independent

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