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‘We’ve only got ourselves to blame’ - Hourihane says squad desperate to put winless run behind them


Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona, Spain. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona, Spain. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona, Spain. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

At a push you could call it the ‘Dirty Dozen’, the unwanted run of 12 games without a win for the Republic of Ireland.

And Conor Hourihane, who has played in eight of those 12 games, in a barren streak which stretches back to the last match of Mick McCarthy’s reign, believes the squad have to take the flak for that winless run which has left the national team in a rut, a sequence that should be ended against Andorra this evening.

Because of the stance of Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, the topic of athletes being asked questions by the media is in the public domain.

And Hourihane followed the example of his manager, Stephen Kenny, by putting a distance between the current squad and the “must-win” label that has been attached to this friendly, against the fifth-worst team in Europe.

“We want to win, but ‘must-win’, I’m not too sure about that. Of course we want to win the game and we want to win every single game we go into,” says the Cork native.

“But we’ll see how the result goes. Our results haven’t been great and we’re all desperate for a win. But we’ve been working on things on the training ground, everyone has got to take a bit of a breather and not get too caught up in the win, because we need to play well first and foremost and hopefully the win will follow. And the sooner it happens the better, there is no getting away from that.”

Hourihane also thought for a moment when asked if he and his fellow internationals are fed up of being asked about the lack of wins.

“Yeah, everyone is,” he replies. “But that is our own fault. These questions keep coming up because we haven’t got the win that we really, really want.

“Hopefully that will be tonight, if not tonight then Hungary (on Tuesday). The sooner the better because everyone seems to be mentioning it, it becomes more in your face, people get talking about it, people start thinking about it more, so hopefully a win comes sooner rather than later.

“That takes a little bit of the pressure off and people don’t point it in your face all the time. But we’ve only got ourselves to blame from that point of view because we should have won games up to now. Hopefully that will come soon.”

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Hourihane’s dedication to the cause is evident in his presence in Andorra. After last weekend’s disappointment of defeat with Swansea City in the Championship play-off final – he is there on loan from Aston Villa – he left Wembley and hopped on the next available flight to Spain to join the Irish training camp. 

“I flew out as quickly as possible. We had a little bit to do with Swansea after the game because you can’t run off too quickly, I suppose. I was on one of the first flights out the next day. I was eager to get out, making sure I was up for selection for the Andorra game,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“My only intention as soon as that final finished was organising to meet up. I missed the March trip so I hadn’t been in for a while, the last time I was in was November. It was always in my schedule to be here – win, lose or draw in the final. I was delighted to be here and meet up as soon as I could.”

The focus on the side has been intense over the last 11 games under Kenny due to the lack of wins, and that intensity will turn into an unbearable storm should they fail to beat Andorra. But Hourihane says the panel will benefit from time together in Spain.

Games against Andorra and Hungary will give them a break from the madness of the last year – from Covid cases, the Wembley video saga, travel chaos and behind-closed-doors games.

“I suppose we’ve had a few trips now with the manager, it’s been chaotic, the previous trips, this is probably the first time it’s been a calm trip in terms of there haven’t been any positives or close contacts or anything like that, injuries have, touch wood, so far been OK,” he says.

“So it feels like a more calm squad because the last few have been all over the place with people dropping out and new faces and isolating and all the rest of it, but in terms of the manager and the points he’s getting across and his detail, that’s not new because he’s been doing that from the very start.

“It’s been tough for the lads over the last year, the amount of transition and chopping and changing in our squad has been huge.

“It hasn’t been easy, Covid really hit the squad . . . the numbers changing in some squads has been ridiculous, 12/13/14 players out and I don’t think a nation like Ireland can have that many players out.

“But it is what it is, hopefully Covid is heading in the right direction, the main squad will be here as much as possible with no disruptions.

“We want that win sooner rather than later and hopefully it will come over the next two games.

“I am really, really enjoying it. He (Kenny) is obviously more possession-based, he wants to pass the ball a little bit more than previous, so we are really enjoying it.

“Midfielders are getting more touches on the ball probably than previous, the gaffer has been brilliant to me personally since I’ve been in the squad.

“I’m enjoying it. You’ve a short career; blink and it’s over before you know it, so you’ve got to make the most of every camp because it doesn’t last forever.”

Having waited so long to get to the Premier League, with Aston Villa, Hourihane knows that also won’t last forever and could already be gone; he last started a Premier League game for Villa in November.

He has a year left on his deal with Villa but being loaned out last season, after he was frozen out, is a sign his future there could be in jeopardy.

“I have a couple of games with Ireland, then I’ll get a bit of down time.

“We have had two back-to-back seasons, pretty much relentless for a long period of time, and then we’ll see what happens with the future after these games.

“I will be heading back to Villa for pre-season and see where we go from there,” he says, still smarting from Swansea’s loss to Brentford.

“The last hurdle was disappointing, that didn’t go the way we wanted to.

“I felt I probably did OK overall, obviously me being a harsh critic of myself, I always want more, I obviously wanted to win at the weekend but that wasn’t the case, that leaves a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

“Yes, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to but would I have preferred to have done that or sit around at Villa?”

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