BANDON soccer star Conor Hourihane is considering running down his contract with Barnsley as transfer speculation linking him with a move to Wigan Athletic continues.
The in-demand West Cork man, who captained Barnsley to League 1 play-off final glory and Johnstone Paint Trophy final success last season, has 12 months left on his contract with the Tykes, but he is ‘laid back’ and ‘relaxed’ about his future.
Hourihane scored 11 goals from midfield last season and set-up 18 goals in another stellar campaign, catching the eye of several clubs, including League 1 champions Wigan, who are said to have made tentative enquiries about a potential transfer.
‘I have 12 months left on my contract with Barnsley so I have a decision to make – will I sign a new contract or will I play away for the next season and wait to become a free agent next year? It’s something I have to weigh up,’ Hourihane (25) told The Southern Star after he was presented with the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Month award for April on Tuesday night, in recognition of captaining Barnsley to Johnstone Paint Trophy final success at Wembley that month, the first West Cork sports person to achieve the feat.
‘It’s a lot easier to find a club when you have achieved a few things and you are a free agent because you become a popular option for clubs, so I know that I have a decision to make.
‘Whether I stay at Barnsley or whatever happens, I’ll be playing in the Championship next year so I’m comfortable with where I am right now.
‘If we didn’t get promoted I would have been more desperate to get into the Championship, but now that we were promoted I’m a lot more easy-going about it all.
‘I’m looking forward to heading back over next week, starting pre-season and testing myself in the Championship, whether that’s with Barnsley or whoever – but at the minute it’s with Barnsley.’
Flying back out to England on Monday ahead of the start of pre-season with Barnsley on Wednesday, Hourihane has been enjoying time at home with family and friends in West Cork after another impressive campaign, but he is already thinking about the upcoming Championship campaign and the next challenge in his career that has taken him, in recent years, from Plymouth Argyle in League 2 to Barnsley in League 1.
‘Being captain of a football club that will play in the Championship is something that really appeals to me. To lead the team out at Newcastle and Aston Villa will be special, so that’s why I am not taking much notice about all this transfer speculation. I am really laid back because I will be playing in the Championship, regardless of what happens,’ Hourihane said.
‘Last season was pleasing, it was another consistently good season and I’m hoping for similar figures in the Championship. I want to prove myself at that level now because I feel that is the next step for me, whether I got promoted with Barnsley or not; luckily I did it the best way by getting promoted with Barnsley.
‘I have worked hard enough now to get to this level and I want to stay there. I have no intentions of leaving it. I want to establish myself as a Championship player and see where that takes me.’
Former Bandon AFC and Douglas Hall underage star Hourihane added: ‘Every footballer wants to get to the Premier League and you find your level along the way. I am progressing nicely in the right direction and we’ll see if I’ll ever get there. If I don’t, hopefully I can cement my place in the Championship for the next five, six, seven years; that wouldn’t be a bad career either.’
The former Republic of Ireland U19 and U21 international is also targeting a call-up to Martin O’Neill’s senior squad next season. If Hourihane can prove himself at Championship level then he can force his way into the national squad.
‘That’s a goal I have for next year. If I can replicate in the Championship what I have done in League 1, I might have a shout,’ he said.
Also at the Celtic Ross Hotel on Tuesday night, European lightweight men’s rowing champions, brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan from Skibbereen were presented with the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Month award for May in recognition of becoming the first-ever Irish crew to win gold at the European senior rowing championships.