CONOR IS SO KEANE TO HIT BIG TIME
Tykes ace steps out of Roy’s shadow
BLINDED by the chance to be managed by boyhood idol Roy Keane, Conor Hourihane admits he made some poor choices when he left his native Ireland to chase the dream of becoming a professional footballer.
But after finally proving himself in League Two with Plymouth, midfielder Hourihane is on the verge of redemption by firing Barnsley back into the Championship.
As a 16-year-old schoolboy ready to leave the small town of Bandon in County Cork, Hourihane had his pick of Premier League suitors but chose Sunderland, managed by Keane, so blown away was he by his first meeting with the former Republic of Ireland captain.
His next move was to Ipswich – once Keane had taken the managerial reins at Portman Road – with the dream of cracking it at Championship level.
But after just a season with the Tractor Boys and no first-team experience to speak of, his time was up and it was off to Plymouth where Hourihane admits it was now “sink or swim”.
At Home Park there was no doggy paddle. Hourihane went full-on freestyle and eventually earned a £200,000 move to Barnsley last summer after two initial bids were turned down.
This season he has been even better and 11 league goals before Christmas convinced the Oakwell faithful of the midfielder’s worth.
And, though that tally has significantly slowed of late, Hourihane has more than played his part in the Lee Johnson revolution that has fired the Tykes into a promotion push.
“Sunderland being in the Premier League and the attraction of working under Roy Keane brought me there,” the 24-year-old recalls.
“He then wanted to take me to Ipswich but, looking back, I made that move too quickly and I wasn’t ready to play in the Championship.
“The chance to go to Plymouth came up, where I knew I could get games. It was a case of having to go a few steps back to go forwards in my career and at Plymouth I knew it was going to be sink or swim. I worked tirelessly there, then the chance came up to go to Barnsley and I think I can look upon this year as a success.
“I still look out for Plymouth’s scores and I think we’ve both had decent seasons.
“I can’t complain about my form. If someone had offered me 13 goals at the start of the season I wouldn’t have complained whatsoever, it’s a great return for my first season in League One.
“Everyone has to chip in, so the fact that I haven’t scored as many in the second half of the season isn’t such a problem because plenty of other people are scoring goals now. If a club wants to go somewhere, goals have got to come from throughout the team.”
Since Johnson succeeded Danny Wilson at the end of February, Barnsley had gone on a sevengame unbeaten run ahead of yesterday’s Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United. They had, however, won back-to-back games even before the 33-year-old moved from Oldham, meaning their unbeaten record stretches to nine.
Yet Hourihane insists Johnson must take all the credit for their spectacular run.
“He’s been good with the boys from the off, he’s got his ideas across, we’ve bought into them
and it has been a good partnership,” added Hourihane. “He wants us to get the ball down and pass, play attacking football. If you are going to lose, do it expressing yourself and enjoying your football. If you are going to get beaten, make sure they have to score four to do it!
“At the start of the season we struggled a little bit against the top teams, but since Lee Johnson has come in he’s given us a bit of self-confidence and that’s been evident in standing toe-to-toe in games with Preston and Bristol City.
“The lads here are young, ambitious, have an incredible will to win and together we want to achieve something.”
BARN-STORMING: Conor Hourihane has been in superb goalscoring form for Barnsley this season
MIXING IT UP: Lee Johnson, Hourihane at Plymouth and Roy Keane