Conor Hourihane bidding to capitalise on midfield absences
Aston Villa midfielder knows there are places up for grabs with Arter and Rice missing
Conor Hourihane (L) has had his hopes of representing Ireland against Wales or Poland boosted by the absence of Declan Rice and Harry Arter. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Having had to scrap his way through the lower leagues to get where he is today, Conor Hourihane knows the importance of seizing an opportunity, so it no great surprise that he spies an opportunity where others have been focused on the absence of Declan Rice and Harry Arter.
“Look, Declan and Harry have been spoken about a lot but ultimately it’s their decision,” he says rather coolly. “It’s about what they want to do. We have to concentrate on the lads who are here and are ready to go for the two games that are ahead.”
He, it is abundantly clear as he speaks, is both ready and willing but if somebody feels they are neither for whatever reason then, he says: “It’s disappointing not to have him but if it’s a midfielder then there’s a place up for grabs and you have to stake your claim in training, go about your business in the right way. Hopefully over the course of the couple of games I’ll get the nod and win another cap.”
He has five to date but acknowledges the slight sense of disappointment he carries with him over his first - the friendly defeat by Iceland in March of last year - when he looked a little lost in Ireland’s midfield for an hour before the manager acted and cut the Corkman’s big day short.
“Yeah, I dreamed of that night for a long, long time,” he says, a little ruefully, “and when it came, looking back now, I took it too. . . Walking out and hearing the national anthem, I thought ‘Wow, I have finally got here’ and then it passed me by.
“But I have learned from it. I have managed to get five caps, played in the playoff final, the Birmingham-Villa derby. . . so I have played in big games and I’d like to think that makes me better equipped to handle it.”
That said, he admits, “the Championship is 100 miles an hour; it’s Saturday-Tuesday a lot of the time. When you play here players are better technically, if you lose the ball you don’t get it back for a while and you can get punished; the tempo is a bit slower but the quality is definitely higher.
“I work hard,” he continues, however, “and I want to be playing. When I first came in we had good players, in the Premier League, but that’s not the case now so places are up for grabs. I want to work hard in training and get a nod for one of the games. It takes time, this is a new campaign and I want to make my mark.”
As O’Neill weighs up his options, it seems reasonable to suspect Keane might be making a case for his fellow Corkman. The Ireland assistant manager had the player at both Sunderland and Ipswich and while he never gave him a first team game he has, the 27 year-old suggests, been there whenever needed to provide help and advice.
“Roy’s been fantastic with me since I was young,” says the midfielder who supported Manchester United as kid primarily because Keane was there. “Obviously being from Cork, he signed me a couple of times, for Sunderland and Ipswich, he’s always given me words of advice along the way. He’s been first class with me so I only have good things to say about Roy.
“He was one of the best midfielders we have ever produced in this country; he’s won countless trophies, countless caps. So if you can learn anything from him, especially as a midfielder, it can only be good for me.”