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Friday 20 September 2019

Conor needs to keep Premier dream alive

UNDER PRESSURE: Conor Hourihane. Photo: Paul Harding/Getty Images
UNDER PRESSURE: Conor Hourihane. Photo: Paul Harding/Getty Images

It took 12 years to get there after he left his home in Bandon, Co Cork, but he got there: Conor Hourihane played in the Premier League.

The Ireland international is anything but a one-season-wonder as he's worked his way up the leagues, playing in every division in England, including a character-building three-year spell in the fourth tier.

But Hourihane now has to hope that his time as a Premier League player was not a one-game wonder, the 28-year-old discovering the harsh realities of life at the top table.

On the opening day of the new season in England, Hourihane was front and centre in the Aston Villa midfield, away to Tottenham. The boy from Cork was on the field while Christian Eriksen slummed it on the bench for Spurs.

But Hourihane didn't finish that game, replaced by Brazilian Douglas Luiz with eight minutes to go and a week later, when Villa had their first home game of the season, the boy from Brazil was in, the boy from Bandon was out.

The result was the same, a defeat for Villa.

They are back in action again tonight, at home to Everton. Mick McCarthy is expected to attend the game, checking on the form of his captain Seamus Coleman but he's not sure if he'll see Hourihane.

Dean Smith, the Villa boss, had a few things to mull over after two defeats, and central midfield is one of his posers, but it seems he will keep faith with the side which tried, but failed, against Bournemouth last week.

That should mean Luiz in the side and Hourihane on the bench, even if the Brazilian had a mixed bag.

"The 21-year-old was at fault for Bournemouth's second goal and was far too casual in the first half," was how the local paper, the Birmingham Mail, saw Luiz's display last week.

"But, in the second half, the marquee Manchester City signing showed what he's all about. He needs to be more aware defensively but there's an exciting player here and he could become a real gem but he must learn quickly."

It's way too soon to kill off the Premier League dreams of Hourihane. He worked too hard and waited too long to get here to give up so early. He is a worker and came through tough times before, the Corkman targeted for boos by some Villa fans during a sticky patch last season, before promotion was finally won.

Hourihane might have to wait his turn. A Brazilian signed for big money stands in his way, and Hourihane needs the mental strength to keep faith in his ability and character to convince his manager that he belongs in the Premier League.

It could mean a long wait but the waiting game is one he has to play.

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