Andrews: Hourihane finished article for Premier class
Himself a late bloomer on the Premier League stage, former Ireland man Keith Andrews feels that Conor Hourihane is about to come into his prime now that he is about to play in England's top flight for the first time.
Hourihane (28) has played in every division in England bar the top one, enduring three straight seasons in the fourth tier, with Plymouth, after earlier spells with Sunderland and Ipswich.
He was a key figure in Aston Villa's rise to the top, sealed with Monday's play-off win over Derby County, and Andrews is eager to see how the Cork native fares.
"I've watched his career a lot, going on loan to Plymouth and at Barnsley. I watched him closely at Barnsley and I felt he was a Roy of the Rovers type player, a Match of the Day type player, whereas now he's becoming a complete player," says Andrews, who was 28 when he made his Premier League breakthrough at Blackburn.
"I can relate to the relief. He's been on a great journey, he's a talented player, he's had to go down and come back up.
"He's gone up the steps, he was hailed at League One level where he was one of the best players by a distance, the captain at Barnsley, and then he's made the step up to a big club and dealing with the pressure of playing at that club and two different managers as well.
"I feel the move to Villa has matured him so much as a player. Even playing the type of role he's had to play. Conor is better playing high up but he played that role very responsibly, it's brilliant for him.
"He has added some structure to his game, positional sense, tackling ability, not that he is ever going to be a Roy Keane type in a tackle but he does it with a bit more intensity now. He is a more complete central midfielder the last couple of years at Aston Villa."
Even though this was a grim season for Irish players at Premier League level, just 15 players from the Republic lining out in that division across the campaign, there were some bright spots in the Championship.
One of those was Dubliner Jason Knight. The 18-year-old didn't get to make a first team appearance for Derby County but he did make the squad at the end of the season and was on the bench at Wembley for their Championship playoff loss to Aston Villa on Monday. Andrews has worked with the ex-Cabinteely player previously and has high hopes.
"I've had him in teams before, the Victory Shield. He was always one right at the top of the list in the underage teams, consistently very very good in his performances," says Andrews, who will work with Knig ht in the U21 squad this week.
"He can play in a number of midfield positions, he plays driving forward for Derby. He's a pleasure to coach, he's done well for Derby in the 18s and 23s.
"Imagine what it's done for him being on the bench at Wembley. I'll have to put the shackles on him a little bit. He's a great lad, I'm delighted for him."