CONOR Hourihane will be hoping that his excellent form for Aston Villa in this season’s Championship against Derby County will continue on Monday at Wembley.
The two clubs collide in the play-off final to determine which of the two will be playing in the Premier League next season.
Bandon native and Republic of Ireland international Hourihan has played a significant role in Villa’s upsurge in fortunes since manager Dean Smith took over from Steve Bruce and has scored some very important goals as they progressed from a mid-table position into the play-offs.
However, he has been very prominent in Villa’s two games with next Monday’s opponents, scoring in both against Frank Lampard’s team.
In the March meeting between the sides he belted in a brace of goals in a 4-0 victory and earlier in the season he scored again against the Rams when the victory was secured again.
Now, however, comes the defining game of the season for the former Barnsley, Plymouth, Sunderland and Ipswich player who has become an established member of the Republic of Ireland squad, firstly under Martin O’Neill and now Mick McCarthy.
Another goal on Monday might go a long way towards catapulting Dean Smith’s team back into the promised land of the Premiership.
In the aftermath of the side’s encounter in March, Smith had warm words of praise for the Bandon native who had been substituted in the previous game to West Brom.
“I was really pleased for him, he got a bit of stick in the game with West Brom but he has a lot of attributes that sometimes go unseen in the eyes of supporters.
“He is very well respected in the dressing room and he has scored some big goals for us this season."
Hourihane himself, a former very promising underage hurler with Bandon, has a very positive outlook on his life and a Wembley victory on Monday would be the biggest achievement in a career that should continue to blossom for both club and country.
“I’ve had a half-decent career, played a lot of games consistently over the past few years so I must be doing something right.
“I always think when I’m going through a tough patch, just work even harder, never doubt yourself, keep self-belief as high as possible and you’ll come through the good patches and the bad patches.”
Monday’s game has an extra bit of spice added to it in so far as former Chelsea legends, Lampard and John Terry are in opposite corners, Lampard as team boss of Derby and Terry as assistant boss of Villa.
The game is one of the richest in world football because of the lucrative rewards that will follow for the winners in the Premiership.