By Liam Scahill
It’s early August 2019, an Irishman with a much lauded left peg around B6 took to the field in the Premier League. The score line might not have been for flattering for Villa, but for Conor Hourihane it was the culmination of a journey up the leagues of English football.
His dream was reality, he had made it to the apex of the football tier and the Holy Grail of footballing dreams… the Premier League. In the aftermath of Villa’s 3-1 defeat to Spurs, the midfielder decided to scratch a chronic itch that must have irritated him for quite some time.
He infamously took aim at a Twitter critic from his past :
Hi Craig, remember this tweet back in 2014… I always remember it to this day. Ironically your a Villa fan who I made my debut with! Never tell anyone they can’t achieve something 👍🏻 @CraigTa90961607 pic.twitter.com/smCgi0VSlO— Conor Hourihane (@ConorHourihane) August 11, 2019
At the time, Hourihane perhaps yearning for affirmation as we all do during our working lives, went on to ask his internet detractor “Can I not dream???”
Craig the “Connor Knocker” stood firm in his opinion that Hourihane would never grace the Premier League:
‘I think you’re a decent player and I rate you but just being honest. I have limitations in my work too’.
The native Corkman had experienced a sweet taste of ‘tweet redemption’ and Craig a moment in the sun, as media outlets gorged on the happy ending tale.
Slip of the Tongue?
Fast forward a few long arduous months for Villa supporters, and the Corkman has made the headlines again thanks to a candid interview for Irish media outlet The Southern Star Podcast.
Early on in the interview, Hourihane had offered up some interesting insight into what the players had been hearing behind-the-scenes in terms of football restarting in light of the pandemic. He stated there seemed to be an emphasis on wanting to keep the 2020/21 season “clean” and uncompromised, rather than struggle to complete the current one.
Inevitably, talk later turned to Villa captain Jack Grealish during the interview, and Hourihane paid tribute to his teammate and captain.
“He’s top, top class. In terms of pure ability and sheer skill and technique level he’s easily the best player I’ve played with to date,” said Hourihane.
“He’s just got that gift. He runs quicker with the ball, when he faces someone up you’re in real trouble. He’s skipping by the best players in this league so easily.
He’s developed over the three years I’ve been here – he’s taken his game to a new level – especially this year in the Premier League.”
So far, so good.
But then, came the part where Hourihane divided the Villa fanbase. Some claimed he was refreshingly honest, while others scorned his lack of ambition and respect of the club. Certainly the Villa owners, CEO and Head Coach wouldn’t have been too impressed by the sentiment of what was said.
“He’s taken it by storm really. You know, England team and getting that big move is only a matter of time because, if I’m being brutally honest, he’s too good for our team at Aston Villa.”
The immortal words of Benjamin Franklin came to mind: “Half the truth is often a great lie.”
The full truth is Hourihane and many of the current Villa incumbents weren’t performing at a level good enough to be at Aston Villa, regardless of the talents of Jack Grealish. Hence the club finds itself second bottom of the Premier League.
Hourihane himself had struggled to play regularly for the under-achieving team he highlights. Perhaps the focus of his words should have been on the need of himself and the rest of the team to lift themselves to give Grealish the kind of support to get Villa where they should be in the league?
Ironically the level of brutal honesty from Conor Hourihane is ever so reminiscent of the Irishman’s former nemesis….Craig from Twitter.
So, Mr Hourihane, can Villa supporters not dare to dream, just as you once did or should we just settle for what has been served up this season? While you give the team’s captain food for thought to leave.
Ask Mr Edens or Mr Sawiris if they are happy just to exist in the Premier League, after their significant investment in the club.
Granted, many of the new recruits at Villa were bought with the future in mind and Dean Smith admitted in a recent interview they should perhaps have got a couple of players with Premier League experience.
Surely Hourihane should appreciate the kind of patience that Villa fans are having to show in what is a transitional season for the club. Smith said, before the season started, that Villa will always be better in their second season in the Premier League (if they stay up). They have shown flashes in their play this season to suggest this is indeed true.
Remember Leicester City back in the 2014/15 season? The freshly promoted team were bottom of the table and seven points adrift after their first 29 games back in the Premier League. They didn’t sulk and wish their better players away.
The Foxes survived their transition season with a late rally. Their relatively new owners continued the momentum of improvement and in the following season, their team won the Premier League title in spectacular and unexpected fashion.
While Hourihane is potentially talented enough to contribute to Villa making a bigger imprint on the Premier League, he’ll only get there with more belief in himself and his team.
If Villa’s new wealthy owners’ ambition for the club is real, then a Villa team that remains in the Premier League will need to keep the kind of players that will allow it to push on and get rid of the ones that aren’t up to the task.
Hourihane has to ask himself, which one of the two categories does he fall into?
Follow Liam on Twitter – @LiamScahill