THE next few weeks could be absolutely massive in the career of Bandon native and Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane.
Villa face Middlesbrough over two legs in the English Championship playoff semi-finals, with the ultimate aim for both, along with Fulham and Derby County, to get into the promised land of the Premier League.
“This week is the big one. We’d have liked to have gone in off the back of a win but we’ve got to wipe the slate clean now and get back to work.
“Anyone who makes the playoffs is going to be a good side. It’ll be a tough test.
“But we expected it to be Middlesbrough before the weekend and it’s turned out that way.
“We have to handle the occasion and don’t get caught up in the importance of the playoffs. We treat it like a normal game of football.
“We’ll have done our homework and have experienced players. We’ll be ready,” said Hourihane when speaking to Aston Villa’s official website ahead of the opening leg against Middlesbrough.
The first leg takes place at the Riverside this evening at 5.15pm, with the second leg at Villa Park on Tuesday at 7.45pm.
Joining Aston Villa in January of 2017, Hourihane took time to get going, but he has well and truly taken off at the club since then and he really has shown what he is capable of.
Hourihane has plenty of experience of playoff triumph and that big occasion at Wembley.
Two years ago Hourihane was the captain as Barnsley secured promotion from League One into the Championship.
Getting the chance to kind out at Premier League level is something which Hourihane deserves, especially with his consistent impressive displays over recent years.
The 27-year-old has been a key figure for Steve Bruce’s side in their quest for Premier League promotion.
Hourihane plays a big role in the attacking aspect of Villa’s game, both in terms of scoring and also creating goals.
He provided the assist for John Terry’s first goal for Villa with a fine delivery for the former Chelsea star to head in.
Hourihane has been in red-hot form overall and has scored 11 goals for Villa this term in the Championship and was involved in one of the most memorable moments of Villa’s season to date, scoring in a 2-0 victory against bitter local rivals Birmingham City.
It was a real moment of spectacular magic and a stunning strike from Hourihane.
After chesting the ball down, he unleashed a fine half-volley which flew over the head of the Birmingham shot-stopper Stockdale and into the top left-hand corner.
Hourihane and his Villa teammates, which include fellow Irish international Glenn Whelan, will hope to be in the Championship playoff decider on Saturday, May 26.
That takes place at Wembley Stadium at 5pm.
With the UEFA Champions League Final taking place later that night at 7.45pm between Liverpool and Real Madrid, it really is a night to book the armchair for a cracking evening of football on the TV.
Overall, Aston Villa have been in very impressive form at home this season.
They have scored 42 goals on their own turf, winning 14 out of 23 games.
Their only two home defeats came against Sheffield Wednesday last November and QPR in March.
As well as Hourihane, there are a number of key members of this Villa side. One in particular that deserves credit is goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.
The 25-year-old has spent the season on loan at Villa from Manchester United and has arguably been the best keeper in the Championship, keeping 20 clean sheets from 45 appearances.
He is likely to be a transfer priority of Villa’s this summer regardless of whether they secure promotion.
The career of Conor Hourihane has been on an upward trajectory over recent campaigns.
All that is missing now is a chance to line out as a Premier League player.