WE’LL never know the answer but was Conor Hourihane good enough to play football or hurling with Cork at the highest level?
The Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland midfielder was a very highly-rated GAA player in his early teens before focussing his attention on soccer.
His decision to pursue a soccer career has worked out better than he could have dreamed of and West Cork’s first Irish senior international is also the region’s first Premier League footballer – but even the Bandon man admits he sometimes thinks about what would have happened if he stuck with GAA.
‘Without a doubt, it was what I wanted to do as a young lad, to play for Cork and win a Munster hurling final or Munster football final,’ he told the Star Sport Podcast.
‘GAA is what I probably saw myself doing up until I was 13 or 14, until I made that switch over to soccer.
‘Over the years I’ve always had that thought – would I have made it? Would I have got onto the Cork team? That question will never be answered now.’
One of Hourihane’s good friends is Cork footballer Brian Hurley, who is adamant that the Bandon man was good enough to go all the way with the Rebels. They met at Cork primary schools’ football team trials in Ballincollig and have been friends ever since.
Hurley has told the Star in the past just how good Hourihane was as a footballer.
‘If Cork football had him at underage we’d have gotten over the line more than we did – he would have been the defining factor,’ Hurley said.
‘I didn’t know what a dummy solo was until I met him. He did them on me all the time. He was ridiculous at that age and he was years ahead of everyone else. When I played against Conor I had to mark him. He skinned me all the time.
‘He was a step ahead in everything, his runs, his anticipation, he was always a move ahead of everyone else.’
There are the stories of Hourihane lighting up Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney during a half-time primary schools’ game at a Munster senior final when he scored 2-5 out of Cork’s 2-6 tally – but while the general consensus is that he was a better footballer, he admits he was drawn more to hurling.
‘If I have a preference, it’s probably hurling,’ Hourihane said.
‘Football is an amazing game but hurling has a uniqueness to it, the speed of the game is fantastic, Munster hurling final days and All-Ireland hurling final days are that bit more special for me. The Munster hurling championship is the catalyst for the summer in the GAA calendar.
‘I still love going to the Cork and Bandon games when I’m back home.’
We’ll never know for certain how good Hourihane could have been in Cork GAA colours but what we do know is that he would have lined out with his home club Bandon and not made a controversial switch to Kilmacabea.
His dad, John, was the Kilmac’s ace free-taker, and his uncles, Dan and Kevin, were also on the Leap football team. Dan is also club chairman, but even that connection wouldn’t have tempted Conor to change club colours.
‘I would have stayed with Bandon – I couldn’t have jumped ship!’ Villa star Hourihane said.
‘My dad and his family, with my uncle Dan, have got big connections with the Kilmacs, but Bandon is where my heart is at.’