CONOR IS SO KEANE TO HIT BIG TIME

Tykes ace steps out of Roy’s shadow

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Joshua Richards

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.”

PIC­TURES: Pin­na­cle

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

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