00:00 Saturday 07 July 2007  Written by John Bohane

Conor is heading off to join Roy at Sunderland

Conor Hourihane, a 16 year-old schoolboy from Bandon, sets out on the path to stardom when he fulfils his boyhood dreams by joining Premier League team Sunderland on Friday, July 6.

The unassuming and modest teenager, who has just completed his Junior Certificate in Bandon Grammar, has spurned the advances of several top flight clubs including Liverpool, Chelsea, Celtic, etc, to sign professional terms with the Black Cats in the North East of England. Sunderland are currently riding high on the crest of a wave, under the guidance of Irish legend Roy Keane, having won the Championship this year, thus gaining promotion to the Premiership.

atmosphere

"I was offered contracts at various clubs, after completing my trials, however I took my time and surveyed my options before choosing Sunderland. I was on trial with Sunderland for a week, and I instantly got a feel for the place. There was a very homely atmosphere, more so than at the other clubs.

"The fact that there are so many Irish players over there and the welcome I received appealed to me. Also, there is a greater chance of progression up through the ranks to the first team which is better for my career in the long term. Another key factor in my decision was that Sunderland have agreed to release me for all future international games for Ireland, something other clubs don't allow. Playing for my country is an honour and something to cherish."

Conor first started playing with his local soccer club Bandon, at the age of five and his pace, expertise and quality passing quickly made him the key player in the team. Conor initially started out as a striker but his keen eye for a pass led to him taking up residence in central midfield, or operating just behind the front two in a creative playmaker role. Conor likes to support his strikers, spray the ball around with his cultured left foot, and open up defences with his mazy skill.

lofty

Conor possesses a superb array of passing skills, which have led to lofty comparisons with ex England legend Glenn Hoddle. Conor has been described as the outstanding midfielder of his age group coming through the ranks of Irish soccer presently as a result of his mature and intelligent play.

Conor's star performances for Bandon led to a call up to participate in the Kennedy Cup, an event hosted in Limerick every summer for under-13 teams throughout Ireland. Conor subsequently joined Douglas Hall, a club based in Cork City, where his performances steadily improved leading to a call up to the Irish under age soccer team.

Conor has established himself as a permanent fixture in the Ireland team with his accomplished performances and has since made over twenty appearances for Ireland at under-15 and under-16 level.

Conor, who has already trained with the Sunderland first team, has signed a two year apprenticeship with Sunderland. Conor will begin playing with the under-18 academy team, and hopes his performances over the next two years will lead to a full time professional contract. Conor will also be studying Sports Science as part of his academic studies for one day every week. All Academy clubs are required to provide their up and coming aspiring players with access to education in case their soccer dream doesn't materialise.

"Brian Buddell, who is the Sunderland education and welfare officer, came to Bandon Grammar and spoke to my teachers about the curriculum I have studied in the past. It is a good safety net to have, as I can go on to do my A levels in the future.

"My immediate aim is to settle in and get used to my new surroundings. I will train hard, put in the extra hours required to improve my skills further. My next aim will be to get some games under my belt in the under-18 team, and try to push hard for a regular starting place so as to further my progression."

Conor who grew up an avid Manchester United fan admits the lure of training and learning from his hero Roy Keane was an influential factor before eventually deciding on Sunderland. "Roy Keane was always my favourite player growing up. I was at Old Trafford, the day he scored his 50th goal for Manchester United against Birmingham and to play under him will be awe-inspiring and a privilege"

presence

"Roy's name and presence was a big factor in me choosing to sign for Sunderland. He has promised to take care of me which is great to hear from someone with his reputation. It was brilliant meeting Roy Keane for the first time. My parents and I were in his office and what struck me most was his knowledge about me, which reassured me immediately. He was up to date with every aspect of my development.

"Roy was the only manager who I met from all the clubs who were interested in me and that was a big factor as well, as it showed his desire and willingness to sign me. He is someone who I can learn a lot from. Also the Cork factor helped and the fact I know I can approach him any time for advice is brilliant.

"The chance to learn from someone like Roy was too good an opportunity to turn down. Training every day and listening and learning from him day in day out will only help to bring my game on.

"The club have been very supportive and have invited my family and I over for games to make us feel welcome. I think the club is going places, there is a great atmosphere and buzz around the club.

"The club is on a upward curve and is destined for great things. I know that if I choose to join Liverpool or Celtic, it would be harder for me to break into the first team as they have so much money and their squads are so strong. At Sunderland, the opportunities will be there and it is up to me to grasp this chance. If you're good enough or showing well in training, you will be given a chance to break into the first team or a chance of some first team experience out on loan with another team."

Conor will be living in accommodation provided by Sunderland with another young Irish lad, Niall McArdle, from Dublin, who Conor knows from international duty. Conor, who was also a gifted Gaelic footballer and hurler for St. Brogan's, has trained hard and waited patiently for this opportunity all his life. "When I first started off playing, I suppose my first dream was to play hurling for Cork, but as my soccer career progressed I had to choose between Gaelic and soccer and with the professional route available in soccer, it was always my dream to turn professional and I had to chase my goals.

"I trained away on my own in the back garden putting in the hours, but it has paid off and has been worth it. Also the endless advice from my coaches at Bandon and Douglas Hall has meant a lot to me and helped my progress."

Conor, who is the youngest son of John and Helen Hourihane, has one sister Elaine and a brother Patrick, who are justifiably proud of his dedication and talent. "My family have been a big influence on my career. They have offered me support and guidance. I will miss home and my friends at the start, but I have to adapt to my new surroundings and settle in to my new life in Sunderland. I will be home for a few days every month, as any time we have an Irish international the club let us visit home for a few days rest."

Conor will be in action for Ireland under-17s who take part in a tournament in Lithuania in August before beginning their campaign for qualification for the under-17 European Championships. There is no doubt that Conor has a bright future ahead of him as he prepares for the opportunity of a lifetime at the Stadium of Light.

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