After yet another goal (his 25th for Aston Villa) against Norwich a couple of weeks ago, Conor Hourihane then endured a disappointing international break.
The Republic of Ireland only gained a single point from 2 games, and Hourihane was left on the bench for the full 90 in the loss against Switzerland on Tuesday evening when a win would have ensured Ireland’s safe passage to Euro 2020.
Hourihane is well used to these ups and downs at club level especially as some fans of his club, Aston Villa have never really warmed to him. A particularly low point came last March when he was roundly booed off the pitch as he was substituted against West Brom.
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He’s had spells where he’s been out of the team, but has shown time and again that he has the desire and strength of character to fight his way back in. None more so than his playoff semi-final first leg leveler against the same opponents in May as this was a critical goal on the way to the final itself. Even that goal came after he didn’t start the game but came on to make his mark.
The main gripe held over Hourihane
The main gripe that the doubters of Hourihane have is that he doesn’t contribute to the team as much as he should, apart from his set-piece expertise, which isn’t in doubt. Their argument is that a more typical defensive midfielder, such as Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz complement the attacking midfielders in Villa’s team, Jack Grealish and John McGinn.
In a game against Georgia for Ireland just a couple of weeks after he was booed off the pitch. Hourihane scored the winning goal, his 1st at international level, as well as covering nearly 12 miles during the 90 minutes. This shows that he has the work-rate and possesses the ability to get around the pitch. This is probably one of the reasons why he now finds himself back in the team at club level.
Dean Smith making space for Conor Hourihane
Manager Dean Smith has recently changed the team shape in order to get Hourihane into the team, which tells you that he feels he does contribute to the team. Jack Grealish has been pushed out to the left-wing, freeing up a central spot which Hourihane now fills.
The two players have relished swapping positions interchangeably, throughout the game in order to surprise opponents with their clever movement and ability to find space. This has seen the duo boost their goal and assist tally in the last game against Norwich.
Hourihane will possibly always divide opinion, but there’s no doubting how much he wants to succeed, and that can take you far.