By Liam Scahill
UPDATE: Signed for Villa on a three-and-a-half year contract.
Conor Hourihane is in a very good position. The Barnsley midfield talisman has number of clubs after him, some more public than others, and one of them, Aston Villa, willing to quadruple his wages. With his contract ending at the end of the season, Hourihane also has the option of holding out until the summer to pick up a potential signing on fee.
By the player’s own admittance, what works for him financially will be a big factor in deciding his future, but can Villa convince him that he has a potentially bright future at a club in dire need of midfield reinforcements.
“It is up to the club to see how far they want to push it,” said Hourihane this week in the press. “I’m open-minded. It would be silly not to be.”
Villa’s midfield department at this juncture, is a chasm devoid of quality and invention, the Villa faithful have subjected the current midfield troops to a plateau of criticism of late due to some truly woeful displays. The January transfer window has been eagerly viewed by many a Villain, as an opportunity for Steve Bruce to introduce some much-needed midfield reinforcements.
Barnsley’s Conor Hourihane’s contract situation has led to the Irishman being heavily linked with a cut-price January move to B6 (mooted to be around £1.25m). So, what can long suffering Villains expect from this potential signing should Hourihane sign up to the stuttering Villa championship promotion push?
Hourihane is a dynamic lynchpin of his current team Barnsley, the Cork-born native is naturally a massive admirer of fellow iconic Corkman Roy Keane. In fact, Hourihane found himself playing in England due to the Irish connections Sunderland harboured back in the days of the Niall Quinn/Roy Keane axis.
The Corkman impressed as a youth on trial, when he arrived on these shores and earned himself a contract in the North East. Hourihane stared alongside the likes of Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson in the Sunderland FA Youth Cup team that marched to the Semi-finals stage back in 2008. The path to becoming a potential Premier League player seemed to be at the feet of Hourihane, but his development would take a different path to that of Colback and Henderson.
In 2010, Hourihane’s idol Roy Keane had left Sunderland and was the then manager of Ipswich and he raided former club Sunderland to sign the then U19 Republic Of Ireland international for the tractor boys. Unfortunately for all involved at Ipswich the Keane/Hourihane reunion was not a successful one, Keane was sacked and Hourihane like many a youth star fledgling found the physical nature of senior football a demanding one, Hourihane failed to start a single game in his one year stint at Ipswich. Keane’s successor at the tractor boys, Paul Jewel deemed the young Irishman surplus to requirements and sold him to League Two outfit Plymouth Argyle in 2011.
Many a young Irishman has found the lower leagues in English football a step too far and have returned to more comfortable surroundings in the League of Ireland environment, but instead of folding, Hourihane flourished at Plymouth in the solace of regular football making 142 appearances. His development did not go unnoticed and his now club Barnsley pounced and took the ambitious Hourihane to the stage of League 1 football.
Last season was a memorable for Hourihane, Barnsley were promoted via the League 1 playoffs and captured the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy meaning Hourihane basked in a two-trophy hail at Wembley. The Championship theatre this season has not halted the upwardly trajectory of Hourihane’s development and profile, instead akin to his time at Plymouth he is rising to the challenge.
Hourihane collected the August Player of the mouth award and has found the net five times so far this season, couple that with 11 Championship assists and it’s hard not to see why Bruce wants the Barnsley man.
At 25, Villa could potentially be getting a dynamic box-to-box midfielder in his prime at an extremely transfer kitty friendly price rumoured to be in the region of around the one million pound mark.
As Villa’s promotion push falters collectively as a club and supporters we need to recalibrate our aspirations, Hourihane is a very component so far Championship level proven midfielder on the cusp of making the Republic Of Ireland international squad. He is his club’s captain and focal point of a lot of the good things the Tykes do well on the pitch.
Hourihane would improve Villa’s much denounced current midfield options, he has the legs to complement Jedinak, the defensive capabilities to assist the centre backs and the level of dynamism required to provide nourishment to the often-starved Villa forward unit.
Considering some of the money wasted in recent seasons on Villa midfielders, Hourihane would be a no-brainer of a signing.
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