DU, DU, DU, DU, DU, DU, – Conor Hourihane!
As Conor Hourihane departs on loan to promotion pushing Swansea City, let us take a positive look back at his time in Claret and Blue.
Hourihane signed for the club during the January 2017 transfer window as Steve Bruce attempted to halt Villa’s alarming slide down the Championship table. He was one of seven signings made that month in the hopes of bolstering the side following relegation from the Premier League less than 12 months prior.
That 2016/2017 came to a painstaking end with a mid-table finish, and with Hourihane grabbing one goal and three assists. Then came the time to look forward to the re-build 2.0. Hourihane had shown enough quality to prove he had a part to play in a promotion challenging side.
The arrival of John Terry sparked immediate excitement, and a hope that 2017/2018 would be the season Villa pushed on and got out of the second division. However, hopes were quickly dulled following a very uninspiring start to the season. Just one point from the opening three games had fans fearing the worst. Cue Hourihane, who produced a scintillating performance in a 4-2 triumph over Norwich City, bagging a hat-trick in the process and sending Villa catapulting on an eight game undefeated run.
That same season, the Irishman smashed in a volley in front of the Holte End to seal a 2-0 victory over Birmingham City – giving every Villa fan exactly what they wanted. You’ve got to love it! Despite this, the season ended in disappointment. In hindsight, we can call this a blessing, as the play-off final 0-1 loss to Fulham would inevitably lead to vast improvements at the club.
The arrival of new owners in the summer of 2018, as well as the appointment of Dean Smith during the darker months of the 2018/2019 season, signalled a transition period at Villa. Hourihane himself had not made a bad start to the season, scoring a stunning free kick in the last minute away at Blackburn Rovers, but under Smith he reinvented himself in the deep lying player-maker position behind McGinn and Grealish. Hourihane was instrumental in the club’s record breaking 10 game winning streak, propelling Villa into the play-off spot and a mouth-watering semi-final clash against Midland rivals, West Bromwich Albion.
In the first leg, West Brom were 15 minutes away from doing a job away at Villa Park, bursting Villa’s promotion bubble. Then up stepped Conor Hourihane, with arguably one of the most important goals in the club’s recent history. My memory from the Holte End that afternoon, as Jack pulled the ball back, was that I just screamed “Conor!” as I saw him lining up his left boot. My god did it the rip the back of the net, causing Villa Park to erupt into a frenzy. I think I knew then that, “this is it, this is our season – we are going to Wembley and we are going to get promoted”. The rest is history!
Villa’s promotion back to the Premier League was huge for fans, but was also a massive personal achievement for Hourihane as he completed his route back to the elite of English football from League Two. Opening his account for the season away at Norwich City, Conor ensured that he had scored at every level of the English game.
It was after ‘Project Restart’ that Hourihane was his most influential of the season, assisting three goals to ensure that Villa survived on the final day of the season. Mission accomplished!
I say mission accomplished as I feel, sadly, that we have outgrown him. Our push for success now requires a different calibre of player than what Hourihane can offer. So often the fall guy after a defeat, he would find himself benched, but what I love about Hourihane is that he never sulked, and he always took it on the chin in order to come back stronger each time. He is a model professional who was crucial in our ascent back to the Premier League, and part of Villa’s consolidation in the top flight – scoring some screamers along the way!
Good luck on loan at Swansea. You never know with Conor’s fighting spirit – we may see him don the Claret and Blue again in the future.
Thanks for reading, Ryan.
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