Conor Hourihane – the Aston Villa cult hero

Conor Hourihane’s excitement and humility was there for all to see as he smiled his way through his first day at Bodymoor Heath – “I am over the moon to be here,” Hourihane announced when he found his words later that day.

Here was a man who was genuinely ecstatic at the prospect of pulling on that claret and blue shirt and following in the footsteps of Villa’s Irish heroes of yesteryear.

Asked to explain how the so many people in the Ghanaian town of Juaben came to support Aston Villa, the chair of the Ghana Lions supporters club, Owusu Boakye Amando, will tell you his grandfather told him once that god’s name was Paul McGrath.

The great plains of Africa are the unlikely destination for thousands of Villans to parade an Irishman’s legacy across Juaben’s street, inviting young and old to bask in a celebration of the Birmingham-based Premier League club.

If McGrath can influence a small town in the Ashante Region, imagine the impact he and three other Irish internationals played for Villa in the seasons that followed the Italia ‘90 World Cup.

You can witness it for yourself by heading along to Buskers in Dublin’s Temple Bar where a couple of hundred fans gather to watch Villa games every week – the congregation of the Leinster Lions supporters club.

Hourihane was made to feel at home right away, 280 miles away from his native Cork.

His thick brogue might’ve drawn instant resemblance to fellow Corkman Roy Keane, indeed the former Villa assistant manager has helped Hourihane on his journey to the top – a journey full of the scrapping qualities of a stallion in the Kentucky Derby odds to make it in the Premier League.

Many big clubs were looking at the County Cork-born prospect, not least Liverpool and Celtic, but it was Keane who advised a 16-year-old Hourihane to join Sunderland in 2007. But impressing his boyhood hero was a short-lived bliss.

A rollercoaster career is far from over for Hourihane, who is approaching his 30th birthday with plenty of international dreams to pursue and a new chapter soon to come with Swansea City, but his time at Aston Villa is regrettably over.

Having clocked up more than 10,000 minutes in a Villa shirt ever since his £3.15 million switch from Barnsley in January 2017, Hourihane has won the hearts of a fanbase so indebted to the many incredible memories he’s made. From derby day beauties, play-off semi-final stunners to Villa Park hat-tricks, and above all, playing a crucial role in the club’s journey back to the Premier League – what’s best, he did it all with a smile on his face.

Hourihane had often split opinion in his two-and-a-half season stay at the club with a section of supporters asking whether his goal contributions – and there’s quite a few to remember – were enough to warrant a regular place in Dean Smith’s starting side.

Very rarely will you come across a midfielder capable of producing that special moment to drag Villa out a hole and flip a game on its head, his impact was such at Villa Park that influence was telling over the course of Villa’s most crucial of campaigns – luck of the Irish perhaps, determination to prove the critics wrong, absolutely.

The making of Conor Hourihane

Such single-minded determination and resilience were installed in the Irishman early on. His journey to the Premier League has been anything but straightforward – but he appreciates it all the more because of it.

Having linked up with Keane’s Sunderland – whom the former Manchester United midfielder was manager of at the time – Hourihane would’ve been forgiven for thinking he’d made it… but this is a ruthless game, as the midfielder was about to find out.

Hourihane during his days at Barnsley

His senior career was just getting started when he dropped to League Two Plymouth, in a ‘sink or swim’ environment.

“That was the kick up the backside I needed. I went in on my days off and from that moment, the switch in myself has never left me,” Hourihane said.

“It was the fear of heading back home with your bags packed, something I never wanted to do. My mum and dad let me go to England at 16. That’s what I would have felt, that I’d let them down. I was close to it if I’m brutally honest.”

Back to Bodymoor Heath and Hourihane’s getting stuck into his first training session. His smile wipes, for this is his first day of building towards promotion with Aston Villa, whether that was two years down the line or not, he had kept a promise to himself all along.

Premier League football was his career goal. But when he came to Argyle, on trial from Ipswich Town in July 2011, the Pilgrims were at an incredibly low ebb. Plymouth were five months into administration with the club’s existence in serious doubt. In such turmoil off the pitch, the Pilgrims had only four pre-season games, and Hourihane scored in his first appearance – a 2-1 win against Truro City at Home Park.

“It was massive for me to have regular football at that time. It was really, really big for me,” Hourihane said.

“I left Ipswich and my only opportunity was with Plymouth. Luckily they gave me an opportunity. They were struggling for players and money at the time.

“It was my only opportunity to play first-team football and I grasped it with both hands. I had to go from a boy to a man. It was sink or swim. It worked out and I have kept climbing and now here I am at Aston Villa.”

In between Plymouth and Villa, of course, was a highly successful spell at Barnsley. He captained the Oakwell club to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final success and League One Play-Off final glory at Wembley.

Almost as if it were a microcosm of Hourihane’s career, the Tykes were struggling at the foot of the League One table and in relegation trouble, but after the Irishman took the captain’s armband, a tremendous run of results followed in March 2016 that saw Barnsley as the third most in-form team in any league in England, Italy, Germany, France and Spain.

He took to life in the Championship like a duck to water, as Villa fans will know. Hourihane kicked off life as a Championship player by winning the Championship Player of the Month for August 2016, before going on to be called up to two Republic of Ireland provisional squads for World Cup qualifiers.

Hourihane admitted to having ‘grown so much as a player’ during his time in Yorkshire, but much of his development was owed to that same perseverance that has never left him.

‘I just can’t wait to embrace playing at Aston Villa’ – Hourihane’s first years at Villa Park

Now standing gleefully alongside the Aston Villa crest, jersey in hand, Hourihane’s media duties were dealt with pure exhilaration, underlined with a determined tone to make a success of life here at B6.

“I have got here to Aston Villa – one of the very biggest clubs in this country and a club which should be in the Premier League – the hard way,” Hourihane explained.

“I am looking forward to the challenge ahead. I think it will serve me well. I am excited by the challenge to prove myself at this level. I have proved myself at all levels and now I need to prove myself at a club like Aston Villa. I am very excited by it.”

“Villa fans can expect an all-round midfielder. I like to stop attacks and also start attacks, I like to get in the box and score goals. I like to chip in with goals and assists. Hopefully, that will continue – there’s no reason why not.

Villa found themselves languishing towards the bottom of the Championship table in 2017, having recruited Steve Bruce to steady the ship following Premier League relegation the season before. Villa had spent over £50 million in the summer on new players, but a deal worth little over £3 million would prove shrewd business to recruit Hourihane from Barnsley.

He became a major part in the change of the guard inside the Bodymoor Heath dressing room.

Only ten months ago Villa fans had to put up with that infamous ‘pocket tweet’ of a brand new Merc and the thought of relegation being a weight off Joleon Lescott’s shoulders, while Leandro Bacuna’s Champions League aspirations hardly helped the cause.

Villa had even lost 3-0 to the academy side during the cataclysmic 2015/16 top-flight campaign. Relegation was an inevitability, yet Championship football would not prove to be a gap year.

Conor Hourihane will be missed by the Villa faithful

Any thoughts of bouncing straight back to the top flight were not only mocked by supporters of league veterans Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, but after winning just once against Rotherham in the first 13 games, Villa found themselves in dire straits once again.

Roberto Di Matteo was elected manager by virtue of his Champions League-winning success as interim Chelsea gaffer in 2012, but the job at hand was far too complex for a manager of his experience. Bruce was swiftly drafted in by Keith Wyness and while Tony Xia’s equations and emojis might have seemed playful at the time, after spending up to £30 million on Ross McCormack, Scott Hogan and Aaron Tshibola, the club was hardly being run more effectively than those who came before.

New regimes may come and go and the club might have even sunk to new lows as Villa finished in their lowest position for 43 years, but jeers of ‘mind the gap’ were eventually put to bed as the second city’s natural order was restored come the end of the season.

Gabby Agbonlahor, without a goal in 14 months – the longest goal drought of his career – just had to win the derby day spoils for Villa once again – one last time. Wheeling off in celebration, his derby day successor and local lad, Grealish would tease new Blues boss Harry Redknapp in the dug-out. Hourihane watched from the bench, but not as a mere spectator, he was watching closely, his derby day introduction would soon come in emphatic style.

After spending big in the summer and January windows, Villa had little to show for their expensive outlay. Jonathan Kodjia ended the season with 19 goals, while Hourihane would soon become a cult hero in his own right, but Bruce knew Villa had to cut back on expenditure with FFP a looming threat ahead of the new season.

Villa fans were keen to sweep another season of misery behind them and concentrate on promotion in what was Bruce’s first full season at Villa Park. Before pre-season preparations got underway, a game or two of golf was the tonic for some timely transfer negotiations.

Bruce loves a trip to the Algarve, getting some rounds under his belt and flirting with Champions League and multiple time Premier League winners. John Terry was the talk of the town as pics circled social media with the former England centre-half keen to strike a deal with Bruce and Villa. It was the transfer Xia needed to get Villans believing in his project again.

Fan favourites Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah were also recruited alongside the loan captures of Axel Tuanzebe and later Lewis Grabban who played his part following an injury blow to main man Kodjia.

Villa, for the first time in a long time, were going places. Away end limbs were frequent and the automatic promotion places were being hunted down. Snoddy’s effort at Bramall Lane will live long in the memory, too the impressive debut for Keinan Davis against Norwich City who’s fleet-footed yet bullish performance at 19 years of age set the tone for a successful league campaign. Hourihane’s first career hat-trick helped sweep the sorry Canaries aside. With the match ball clutched in his arms and three fingers raised, this won’t be a picture that’ll escape Villa fans’ minds any time soon.

Bruce was however handed a cruel blow as pre-season ramped up. Villa faced Watford and a freak injury to Jack Grealish ruled out the youngster for the foreseeable future. We didn’t know it at the time, but Jack’s maturing faze was fast-tracked and his Villa career was at the benefit of an early-season blow in Villa’s second Championship season.

Villa had found a way to blow teams away let alone simply beating them. First, Burton Albion took a good schooling before Lee Johnson’s Bristol City left Villa Park wounded by a five-goal deficit. A top-six finish seemed a certainty after the turn of the year with a seven-match winning run key to Villa’s promotion chances.

Hourihane had netted seven times before Garry Monk’s Birmingham City crossed the second city for the second time in the 2017/18 campaign, but the pick of his bunch was saved for just the right time. Taking the ball down with his chest, without a second thought, wallop! Hourihane let fly with a stunning half-volley from the edge of the box that lobbed over Blues goalkeeper David Stockdale, helpless in preventing a Holte End worldie on derby day.

He would even end the campaign as the most creative player for the club, with nine goals and 11 assists, becoming the only Villa midfielder to reach double figures for goals in a season since David Platt in 1991.

At the league’s summit, Nuno Espirito Santo’s new look Wolves side weren’t showing any signs of slowing up until, with 11 games remaining that season, Villa Park welcomed the wolf pack to a lion’s den thirsty to disrupt a run of form that had yielded 47 points from 21 games since November. Villa turned over their Midlands rivals with a 4-1 win that dared to catapult Villa up the league standings.

In typical Villa fashion, losing to QPR only days after taking the biggest scalp in the league was a sign that whilst Villa had wiped away the cobwebs of former seasons, old habits die hard. And so after years of watching this interesting, second division debacle, called the play-offs, Villa were flung right into the heart of the promotion mix, with 270 minutes of football separating them and Premier League football once again.

Mile Jedinak’s early header at the Riverside handed Villa the advantage in the away leg, but as Middlesbrough flustered in home and away ties, Villa held on to set up a third Wembley appearance in as many years – a play-off final was to be a totally eye-opening experience, one Aston Villa wasn’t too au fait with.

Despite Hourihane’s recent successes at the national stadium, a promotion to the Premier League wasn’t to be on this occasion. Anthony Taylor glanced at his watch, raised his whistle to his mouth and so scenes of euphoria poured from Wembley’s sun-soaked East End, Tom Cairney lapped up the jubilation – it was desolation for those of a claret and blue persuasion.

When those with clappers, armed with sunscreen and bathed in sunshine celebrated Fulham’s return to the Premier League after a four year exile, the other half of Wembley, solemn in claret and blue capes hadn’t a clue what devastation a single Cairney goal could do to Xia’s five year plan to get Villa competing with Barcelona in no time.

He put it all on red, it came up black. Xia’s spell at Villa was over before it even began. The club had amassed huge debts and quickly money became a huge issue with another Championship campaign looming.

Hourihane makes the dream work

Hours from administration, Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and American business partner Wes Edens swooped in to save Villa from ruin. Christian Purslow joined as CEO whilst Bruce’s role at the club was under scrutiny.

Villa’s new ownership group, who are now one of the wealthiest in the Premier League, set their stall out, rejecting Daniel Levy’s approach for prized asset Grealish whose future was in serious doubt. Boyhood fan Jack reluctantly waved goodbye and bowed his head as Villa opened their campaign with a win at the KCOM in August 2018.

Hourihane scored his fair share of goals at Villa

“Let’s get to work”. The simple message from soon to be Villa superstar Grealish as he committed his immediate future to the club, but there was only one aim for Villa’s talisman from thereon – getting Villa promoted for good.

Jack was even the instigator in persuading Tammy Abraham to join on loan. His goals would prove vital to Villa’s promotion but with only three wins in the first 11 games of the new season, Bruce would be replaced even if Glenn Whelan’s missed penalty in the dying embers against Preston seemed calamitous.

Bruce helped steady the ship, spent savvy and effectively. John McGinn’s capture from Hibernian will no doubt remain the best piece of business Villa will do for some years. The Scot was an unknown quantity before arriving on B6 with a spring in his step and turn with his bum. Shifting the ball in an awkward yet brilliant fashion, McGinn won the hearts of Villa fans even before crashing a goal of the season volley past Sheffield Wednesday in Bruce’s penultimate game at Villa Park.

Purslow was quick to act on the Geordies’ departure and offering Dean Smith the chance to take the reigns of his boyhood club was no question, instead, his interview turned into a masterclass in football coaching and player development as taught by Smith, soon to be the man to guide Villa back to the promised land.

After securing a win on his opening game against Swansea, Smith’s side would win away at Frank Lampard’s Derby 3-0 and Middlesborough by the same, convincing margin. Most satisfying of all was a 4-2 victory over bitter rivals Birmingham despite their nine minutes in dreamland threatening to spoil Smith’s first game in charge of a second city derby. In reality, it couldn’t have been further from the truth, Villa turned on the style, Jack scored his first against Blues and Alan Hutton was halfway to Mosley before he netted one of the most memorable of derby goals you’re likely to witness.

Hurling himself to the admiring Holte End, the Scottish Cafu would live up to his Brazilian counterpart for one day and one day only when it truly mattered. Having written his name in second city derby folklore the season before, comparisons between the Irishman’s volley and that of Hutton’s marauding run were made.

Asked whose goal was the better, Hourihane reluctantly said: “I’ve got to go for Hutts!”

“They were both at the Holte End. They were both decisive goals. They were both good goals. We both enjoyed the moment.

“But Hutts never scores! And he also ran the full length of the pitch so I’ve got to give it to him, haven’t I!”

In the turbulent manner, Villa have often operated, progress under Smith would all but undo after winning only two of the 14 fixtures that preceded Villa’s 3-0 win on Teesside and Jack Grealish’s shin injury had sidelined, head and shoulders the best player in the league indefinitely.

Villa’s season was in tatters and the play-off picture had forgotten about Villa who’d failed to beat Stoke, Reading, Hull and QPR, before losing 3-0 to Wigan at the height of their midseason slump.

‘Please welcome back number 10 Jack Grealish!’ Waking out with a captain’s armband strapped to his bicep, the returning Grealish would inspire Villa to a first league win in over a month, dictating proceedings and ending a 4-0 half-time rout against Derby by planting a volley into Scott Carson’s top right corner.

That wouldn’t be the last of Grealish’ memorable strikes that season.

Handing Grealish the captains armband would be a masterstroke from Smith as Villa embarked on a club record ten-match winning run that propelled a Villa side that was languishing in mid-table back into the playoff picture. Emulating a young Gabby Agbonlahor at St. Andrew’s was the poetic justice Grealish deserved after being assaulted on the pitch, we’ll always have the last laugh and in what turned out to be the final grudge match with Birmingham during Villa’s prolonged spell in the second division.

Alongside McGinn, Hourihane formed a formidable relationship with Grealish too, as the midfield trio flourished towards Villa’s remarkable end of season winning run.

Eight wins later and Villa had consolidated a top-six place, netted 18 goals and before contesting a play-off final place for the second year in a row, scored one of the Championship’s more bizarre goals at Elland Road – not only would Villa have seen the back of Patrick Bamford but Leeds United too following play-off capitulation at the hands of Frank’s Rams.

Villa hit the play-offs in form, and despite West Brom comfortably sitting inside the top six for the duration of the season, it was Villa who were installed as favourites. Hourihane’s introduction in the second half of the first leg could not have been more effective. Striking the ball away from Sam Johnstone from distance, the Irishman got Villa back on level terms having fallen behind to a Dwight Gayle opener.

Villa went on to win the first leg, but after faltering at The Hawthorns, only a penalty shoot-out win could test the bottle of Villa players and fans alike, all so desperate to make use of some handy back-end of season form.

Jed Steer was the hero on the night, Villa were off to Wembley to put some wrongs right. Banishing the Wembley hoodoo was the aim, but as kick-off approached in the sweltering capital, focus on the task in hand was key and momentum was rife. Smith had taken Lampard’s Derby side apart in the two previous league encounters by 7-0 aggregate score.

Feet dragging with backs turned to Wembley Way, leaving the capital empty-handed isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for us Villans. Seldom have heroes wearing claret and blue scaled the steps to lift a silverware, and in 2015 Tim Sherwood’s Villa came the closest to lifting the FA Cup since John Gregory this millennium.

Hourihane always played with a smile

Optimism has rarely been traded in these parts over the past five years with negligent ownerships, relegation scraps and second-tier football all customary in that time. Hourihane, though, was a major part of a group of players determined to get Villa back to the big time.

After the two previous Wembley heartbreaks, Villa would step up to the fore, win promotion and claim the all-important final Premier League space for the 2019-2020 campaign. The 40,000 Villans packed into Wembley’s West End had to trade with a wee faith and rely on some Scottish vigour. John McGinn put the game beyond Derby and so it was Villa’s time to light up the Wembley arch claret and blue – good times never felt so good!

Hourihane insisted “we’re desperate to go one better” as Villa geared up for a successive play-off final and so he was duly rewarded with a new contract as the club prepared to embark on a top-flight return.

On committing his future last season, he said: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s exciting times for the club with us moving into the Premier League.

“I’ve waited all my career for the opportunity to play at this level and the time has now arrived. ‘m really looking forward to the season ahead. It’s a big period for me personally as I’ve come all the way from League Two to reach the top.”

Rising to the Premier League challenge

The prospect of visiting Old Trafford, Anfield and The Emirates hadn’t been lost on the Cork native, having scaled the football league en route to realising his dreams.

“The first day of training, when you’re playing with the Premier League balls, little bits and pieces like that remind you that we’re actually in the Premier League here,” Hourihane explained.

“It’s going to be a challenge of course, but I’ve done it the hard way and always risen to challenges. This is another one I’m looking forward to, and whatever minutes I do get I’m just going to have to make sure I’m ready and play well.”

The former Sunderland and Ipswich reject had even remembered a certain tweet, as he served up some freshly-made humble pie after making his Premier League bow for Villa in August 2019.

The Irish midfielder uploaded a screen-grab from 2014, which Craig Taylor had tweeted to then-Plymouth player Hourihane: ‘Good article mate. You’re Argyle’s best player kid no danger, but Premier League? There’s ambitions and there’s reality.’

As fate would have it, Craig was a Villa fan responding to Hourihane’s claims of hoping to make it through the leagues, from League Two to the top division.

The midfielder responded by tweeting: ‘Hi Craig, remember this tweet back in 2014… I always remember it to this day. Ironically you’re a Villa fan who I made my debut with! Never tell anyone they can’t achieve something.’

Having also become a full Irish international during his time at Villa Park, Hourihane has often defied the odds stacked against him.

Hourihane told the Going Up, Going Down EFL podcast: “I’ll always remember that tweet.”

“For whatever reason, it’s crazy, it’s weird, it’s amazing, I just said I was going to tweet that guy when I play in the Premier League.

“In the summertime when I was away with my missus on holidays, I said, ‘There’s this guy who tweeted me and I’m going to tweet him as soon as I make my Premier League debut’.

“My missus went, ‘Just don’t even start, I don’t want to hear the story!’

“I said, ‘I’m telling you, I’m going to do it’.

“I made my debut on the first game of the season. I was in my hotel room and, no word of a lie, I found it, I screen-shotted it and I had it ready. Whether we got beat 20-0 against Spurs or won 1-0, I was tweeting it the next day. I loved every second of it, I’m not going to lie!”

During his first Premier League campaign, and indeed Villa’s first since relegation in 2016, Hourihane managed to score three league goals, including a crucial winner against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

Hourihane said: “I’ll never tire of scoring goals for this football club. It’s something that I love doing.

“It makes it more special that it was in front of the Holte End and that we picked up three points on Boxing Day.”

After four straight league losses, the victory lifted the spirits of everyone in claret and blue. A run of fixtures against the teams around them started with a disappointing loss against Southampton, and Hourihane was delighted to have bounced back against the Canaries.

John McGinn and Conor Hourihane

“It’s been the best year of my life, getting promoted and with my daughter being born.

“It’s amazing times. I love playing for this football club and the fans have been great with me through thick and thin.”

In the 2019/20 campaign, Hourihane had the third-highest expected assists figure in the Premier League, behind only Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez. Though, it was a season like none other before it.

Villa Park never seems to be quiet for too long, but after the Coronavirus pandemic struck, B6 is now quieter than it has ever been. The shutters are down, the fast-food wrappers flutter violently in malevolent gusts and the Trinity Road is no longer a fortnightly parade.

The Coronavirus pandemic had halted the league season following Villa’s 4-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium. Relegation was an inevitability at this point.

“It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a tough challenge for everyone, with a pandemic out there. Lads are worried for loved ones at home. ‘Am I taking this home to people?’ People are dying, it’s terrible. There are a huge amount of factors going on. Maybe we can give a lift to everyone by getting a result on Wednesday,” Hourihane said ahead of Villa’s Premier League return against Sheffield United.

“Football, GAA, life: it is just not the same at the minute. On my partner’s side we’ve unfortunately had a couple of people pass away from coronavirus,’ he added, in an interview with Off The Ball.

“The first few months were amazing family-wise, spending a lot of time with my partner and my daughter, where I usually wouldn’t have had as much time to spend with them. We then had a bad month or six weeks with the virus but we’re just trying to get on with it as best we can and heading back into that bit of normality now is nice and maybe we have seen the worst of it.

“The virus affected our family a little bit, we were in our own little bubble thinking ‘all life was fine’ and then you get affected by it and all of a sudden you go, ‘wow, this out there and this is real and it’s happening.’”

Hourihane wasn’t the only member of Villa’s first team bubble to have been impacted by the illness. Villa boss Dean Smith lost his father to Coronavirus.

“His father passed away, which is desperately sad for him. It has affected people at our club no doubt,” Hourihane added.

“I’d to tell him about my own family situation; I’d get a day off to go to a funeral and whatever so there are real-life conversations away from football as well and it’s not easy for people.

“At the end of the day we get to go in and play and train and Dean, myself and the lads are really looking forward to getting going.”

Adapting to Project Restart and achieving Premier League survival

It was fast becoming a first top-flight season to forget for Hourihane, but as the relegation picture became clearer, fixtures were running out and Villa’s gaffer knew there was no margin for error as the final four fixtures of the season approached – it was an opportunity to produce a truly great escape.

Though after falling to a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United six games into the Premier League’s Project Restart, the writing was on the wall for Smith’s Villa side who plunged deeper into relegation trouble.

Dropping seven points below the dreaded dotted line after that defeat was a wake-up call for the Villa players who despite shoring up and looking more resolute, were coasting in games and settling for draws against beatable opponents like Sheffield United and Newcastle.

A vital win over Arsenal followed a late blow at Goodison Park before Jack Grealish chose the perfect time to notch his first goal in 14 Premier League games at the London Stadium to seal Villa’s top-flight status on a dramatic final day.

After securing another Premier League season in his unique career, Hourihane said: “I’m over the moon. I’m delighted for the lads, the club, the fans, and it was just amazing to get over the line. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions with last-minute defeats, ups and downs and we’ve not been consistent enough over the season.

Hourihane celebrates goal for Villa against Newcastle

“Being in the middle of the pitch with staff, players and all the injured lads at the end of the game – we were just over the moon. It hasn’t really sunk in.”

Villa fans around the world watched on anxiously as events from East London unfolded, with results elsewhere adding to the drama.

“On the pitch, it (the nerves) wasn’t too bad and then with 15 minutes to go I got taken off and it was a nightmare because you can’t affect the game,” he said.

“We were getting results and updates every other minute. When you’ve come off and people are giving you updates, it was heart attack stuff. I’m delighted for the club. It’s a massive, massive football club and everyone knows we shouldn’t really be in this position. Hopefully, we can build on this season and move forward.”

This season, following the arrival of Ross Barkley, 29-year-old Hourihane was edged out of Dean Smith’s starting XI prior to Villa smashing Liverpool 7-2 with Barkley taking the Irishman’s starting shirt.

Having started the first two games of the season, the Irishman scored in Villa’s first away win of the season at Craven Cottage, but despite holding his own in the Premier League, his days at Villa look to be over as Smith looks to improve the depth of his squad.

The Irish international has since revealed how he’s been conducting his UEFA B Licence via online coaching sessions alongside former Villa youth-team striker James Collins, currently at Luton.

“I had been looking at starting my coaching qualifications for a little while,” Hourihane said, “so when the FAI got in touch about it I jumped at it. Then COVID hit and everything was put on hold. But credit to (coaching coordinators) Niall O’Regan and Craig Sexton, they got things up and running by starting the course online.

“Obviously I’d prefer to be doing everything face to face, with all of the other coaches in the room and on the pitch, but making a start at it in these uncertain times is a bonus. And I have to admit that it’s been very enjoyable so far with great interaction and everything set up well.

“I’m looking forward to the next block, where we can hopefully get onto the pitch, but the online sessions have been great. It’s a modern way of learning and we all have to adapt to the current situation around the world, so I’d encourage all coaches to embrace it.”

Knowing the appetite Hourihane has for the game, coupled with a determination and pure persistence to reach his goals, you wouldn’t bet against him returning to the club in some capacity in the future, if not a fan amongst those who once sung his name in the stands.

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Original Source: A Villa Fan

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