Bandon's Conor Hourihane left a mark at Villa Park

Experienced midfielder helped Aston Villa gain promotion to the Premier League though he has since switched to Sheffield United
Bandon's Conor Hourihane left a mark at Villa Park

Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa runs with the ball during the pre-season friendly match away to RB Leipzig. Picture: Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images

BANDON'S Conor Hourihane is so highly thought of in Cork that sometimes it’s hard to fathom that another city may appreciate him just as much, if not even more so.

But the positive reaction to the Bandon native’s recent interview with The Athletic when he openly discussed the highs and lows of his time with Aston Villa shows that people of Birmingham also regard him so greatly.

Hourihane signed for Villa for a fee of close to £1.5million at a time when they were struggling to gain any real momentum in the Championship.

With a total of 23 goals and as many assists in the league for the club, the midfielder was a driving force at a time when they needed a player like him the most.

"Villa is a special club and I played there for four and a half years and made over 150 appearances,” Hourihane told The Athletic.

From the animal I signed for to the beast I left it, who wouldn’t miss it? But the motivation for me is to go and get another game in the Premier League."

But it wasn’t all plain sailing as he quickly recalls what life with the Birmingham giants was like at the very beginning with a 3-0 loss to Brentford on his debut.

"Shocking. A game I don’t look back on with any fond memories. It was pouring with rain and we got battered. Simple as that.

"Honestly, I was thinking, have I made the right choice here? I was so desperate to make it into the Premier League and when things weren’t going well I started to think all sorts of things.” 

Hourihane would soon discover he had made the right choice as Villa eventually found some form in the Championship and he helped Steve Bruce's side to the 2017/18 play-off final with 11 goals and two assists in 40 league starts.

But the showpiece occasion and promotion both ultimately went to Fulham as Tom Cairney fired them into the Premier League while Villa were to remain in the second tier for another season, at least.

"I’ve had enough of play-off finals. I can’t cope with them anymore!" he joked.

But the claret and blues would eventually succeed in the play-offs, with Hourihane's heroics proving crucial.

The Republic of Ireland international’s stunning equaliser against rivals West Bromwich Albion gave Dean Smith's men the platform to push for promotion and it’s a goal Villa fans will never forget.

"People might go on about the technique of that goal or whatever, but hand on heart, it was out of pure frustration,” he admitted.

“I was really, really disappointed not to play, so when we were 1-0 down and I came on, I was either hitting that shot into the top corner or hitting it into the Holte End. I didn’t care. I was just putting my foot through it. Luckily it went in and it was a wonder strike.” 

Sheffield United's Conor Hourihane.
Sheffield United's Conor Hourihane.

But his proudest moment in the famous Villa shirt would come shortly after as he stepped up to take the first penalty against West Brom in the penalty shoot-out.

And more memorable days would follow as Hourihane continued to perform for the club when they finally made it back into the Premier League as he scored four goals and claimed five assists.

But despite the important role he played in their survival, his days at the club seemed numbered as Villa looked to try and challenge at an even higher level.

"There were two moments where I felt my Villa days were possibly coming to the end,” said Hourihane.

Barnsley's Alex Mowatt and Swansea City's Conor Hourihane last season. Picture: PA.
Barnsley's Alex Mowatt and Swansea City's Conor Hourihane last season. Picture: PA.

"I played the first two games of the season and then scored against Fulham. Then Ross Barkley came straight in against Liverpool even though I felt it was my shirt to lose."

Then perhaps the more decisive moment came when Barkley was missing from the first eleven yet youngster Jacob Ramsey was given a start over Hourihane.

"I felt like the writing was on the wall then,” he continued.

“I came home and said I need to push to go out on loan, I don’t think my wife was best pleased because she was pregnant at the time.

“But I said to her, you know what I’m going to be like around the house if I stay (and don’t play). It’s not going to be great! She was so supportive.

I care too much, especially in the football world. That is my downfall, but becoming a father changed that slightly. 

"I know that win, lose, or draw, my two girls will always need their daddy. I still always want to play, though!” 

From his play-off heroics to scoring against Birmingham City in the second city derby, Hourihane's time at Aston Villa will be fondly remembered by all the fans who witnessed him play there, as the reaction to this interview on social media proves.

His farewell in the 6-0 win against Barrow in the Carabao Cup was a nice tribute as he was handed the armband for the occasion.

But with the 30-year-old now playing well for Sheffield United, who’s to say he won’t be back playing at Villa Park in the top-flight in the future, even if it is for the opposition.

“People didn’t know about the work I had put in behind closed doors to climb the ladder from League Two to the Premier League. But I’ve always found that one of my strengths is to get up and crack on.” 

It’s that attitude that may see him return to the Premier League again one day.

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