Gerry Thornley on Ronan Kelleher, Conor Hourihane inspires Villa win

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish celebrate after Aston Villa’s win over Newcastle United. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish celebrate after Aston Villa’s win over Newcastle United. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

In his column this morning Gerry Thornley has suggested it could be a case of being in the right place at the right time for Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher, as a new era dawns for Ireland under head coach Andy Farrell. With former captain Rory Best now retired and provincial teammate Sean Cronin injured, Kelleher’s outstanding performances since the start of the season have seen him move firmly into the international reckoning - and he could be a worthy bolter for next year’s Six Nations squad. Gerry Thornley writes: “It might seem remarkable that a 21-year-old, who only switched to hooker when he was 16, and came into this season with just two Guinness Pro14 games to his name (a start against the Southern Kings and an appearance off the bench against Ulster), might feature in the Six Nations. But circumstances can be hugely significant parts of playing careers, and Kelleher’s timing could hardly be better.”

Conor Hourihane inspired Aston Villa to a 2-0 win over Newcastle United last night, the Ireland midfielder ensuring Steve Bruce’s return to Villa Park was an unhappy one. Hourihane opened the scoring with a smartly taken free-kick before turning provider for Anwar El Ghazi’s second, as Villa ended a run of three consecutive Premier League defeats. Tonight the Champions League returns and José Mourinho takes charge of Tottenham under the lights for the first time, with Spurs knowing a victory against Olympiakos at home will see them progress into the last-16. Elsewhere Manchester City need a point at home to Shakhtar Donetsk to reach the knockouts, but will be without Sergio Aguero, who is set to miss next month’s Manchester derby with a thigh injury. Among the night’s other fixtures, Real Madrid welcome Paris Saint-Germain to the Bernabeu.

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