Hard graft the key as Hourihane keeps proving people wrong
Villa midfielder grateful for the chance to prove his worth for the Republic of Ireland
Conor Hourihane: “I’ve failed loads of times,” he says. “It defines you as a character when you fail, how you bounce back.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
“Fourteen,” says Conor Hourihane, good naturedly, but making his point after he is asked about still getting used to playing for Ireland 13 appearances in. “But I’ll let you off with that one.”
The reporter is not the first one to be politely put in his place after getting things wrong in their communications with the Aston Villa midfielder. A rather more striking example was the arm’s length exchange with one of his current club’s fans, Craig Taylor, the morning after he made his Premier League debut back in August.
Hourihane got up the morning after the game at White Hart Lane and took to Twitter to remind Taylor of his suggestion nearly five years ago that the Corkman, then at Plymouth, was kidding himself if he thought he could play in England’s top flight.
“Hi Craig, remember this?” went the start of the assassination by social media. “Never tell anyone they can’t achieve something,” it concluded.
That’s a lesson Hourihane says he has learned the hard way. Taylor had told him he was the best player at Plymouth back in January 2014 but suggested he should settle for that. The Irishman actually disagrees on the first point and has built his career, he insists, on never, ever settling for what he has.
“Yeah, listen it was kind of hammered into me at home,” he says. “My family always did it the hard way and I’ve always worked hard, something I pride myself on. You have to work hard or people pass you out.
“I’d a little bit of talent maybe but hard work has got me through the leagues to where I am now; I made most of myself and will continue to do that.”
On his day, Hourihane doesn’t look that short of talent at all but maybe he feels there is just always somebody there to eclipse him. Against Norwich at the weekend, he was outstanding but it was Jack Grealish who got to go home with the Man of the Match award.
He seems genuine, in any case, as he works his way back through his various clubs, all the way back, and insists he was never the standout star.
“I wasn’t the most talented player in any of the teams I played in,” he says. “Plymouth, probably not. Barnsley, probably not; going back to Douglas Hall, Bandon, Cork City . . . I probably wasn’t the most talented but I definitely worked the hardest.
“I always wanted to, probably [because of] the fear of failure, of not making it, and having to go back home and being that nearly man. It’s still there now, even though I’m playing international level and in the Premier League. To this day, I’m always worried about that person behind me. That’s what drives me on.”
That all said, he subscribes to that theory being about failure being a healthy enough thing as long as you are not dragged down by it.
“I’ve failed loads of times,” he says. “It defines you as a character when you fail, how you bounce back. Some people shrink and don’t fancy failing again. I’m not scared to fail again. If I do, I come back again.
“That’s probably tougher when you’re younger,” he continues, “but support from family and friends around you [matters], and having that little bit of drive, wanting to achieve something, and never saying, you know ‘I’m not going to make it,’ or whatever.
“I’ve had more tough days than good days in football, that’s for sure but I’ve always had that self-belief. It’s just something I’ve had in my armoury over the years. It’s probably a fantastic one to have as a lot of people can’t overcome the failures and the setbacks”
It has served him well with Ireland for the midfielder made a slow start to his international career and looked to be struggling with the step up during a few of his initial appearances under Martin O’Neill.
This year he has come into his own, however, with his passing and set-piece deliveries, suddenly making him central to Mick McCarthy’s side.
“Earlier on it was something I always wanted to do but maybe it was a little bit big for me,” he says.
“But as the caps have gone on, maybe into double figures, or when I scored against Georgia [back in March], it felt like: ‘I’m actually doing alright here’. That’s probably only the last three, four, five caps though.
“It’s still quite new to me,” he continues. “I am still finding my feet but this manager has given me an opportunity to make the most of the opportunity. I feel like I have done well in some games and okay in others but overall I am making my way in it, slowly.
“I feel like I am getting the opportunity now; a string of games in a team that’s unbeaten in the group. Every game we go into there is that good vibe around that makes you feel good about yourself so you feel like you will go out and put in a good performance.”
At club level, he tends to manage a goal every five games or so and feels he can do better on that front for his country.
“I have always managed to score over the years,” he says. “I was desperate to get the first [international] one out of the way; it’s something I want to do moving forward, score goals. One might come on Saturday.”
Maybe somebody should get on Twitter and dismiss the notion. You get the sense, though, that Hourihane doesn’t need any extra motivation to feel he has a point to prove.