BANDON’S £3.5 million soccer star believes that Aston Villa offers him the best chance to play in the Premier League.
Conor Hourihane made his full debut for his new club in Tuesday night’s Championship clash away to Brentford – a 3-0 loss in London – and he has already targeted a promotion push this season.
Villa are currently nine points off the promotion places but Hourihane insists his new team can go on a winning run and drag themselves into contention.
Last season in League 1 with Barnsley, Hourihane and the Tykes were in the relegation zone in November 2015 but went on an incredible run that saw them force their way into the play-offs and they went on to win the play-off final against Millwall at Wembley to win promotion to the Championship.
Hourihane makes no secret of his desire to play in the Premier League and he feels Villa is his ticket to the big league.
‘I’m hoping this is my way into the Premiership,’ the 26-year-old said.
‘There’s no doubt this is a big enough club to be there. I am an ambitious lad, I want to play in the Premiership and I feel Villa is the right club to help me get there.
‘There are a lot of very good players in the squad, we’ve a fantastic manager with a great pedigree and I’m sure that in my time here we will get promoted to the Premiership. You never know, that might come this year if we can sneak a play-off spot, that will be tough, but we saw last year with the run that we went on in Barnsley (in League 1) so there’s no reason that can’t happen with Villa now.
‘The transfer window shut on Tuesday, that will allow the squad to settle down and hopefully we can go on a run together. The manager has brought in a few players so we need to gel quickly and get on a run that we are capable of doing.
‘If we get on a march, teams will start looking behind them. If we can get a couple of wins together we won’t be far off the promotion spots.
‘If it’s not this year we’ll be in contention for promotion next season – but we want it this season.’
The former Bandon AFC and Douglas Hall starlet has been in sensational form this season with Barnsley, scoring six goals from midfield and adding 11 assists to become one of the best midfielders in the division. It’s this form that saw a host of clubs beating a track to his door, as his contract with Barnsley ran out in the summer and he could have moved then on a free transfer.
But once Hourihane knew Villa were serious, he admits his head was turned.
‘There were other clubs interested but the idea of joining Aston Villa sat with me quite well,’ he said.
‘Villa are such a big club, they won the European Cup in the past and they’ve been in the Premier League for years and years. They’re too big to be in the Championship but the reality is we are here.
‘Villa are bigger than half the teams in the Premiership, it was a no-brainer for me, it’s a challenge that excites me.
‘At the official signing (last week), when I slipped the Villa shirt on the first time, I was like, “Bloody hell, this is Aston Villa”. It’s an iconic name, an iconic club and it’s special. I have worked really hard to get here but this won’t satisfy me, I want to make myself a success here and move on even further.’
He’s travelled a long road to get here, from Bandon to Birmingham via a lot of necessary stops, and West Cork’s finest soccer export wants to make an instant impact with Villa.
‘I want to make an impact straightaway. That’s what I am here for,’ he said confidently.
‘I want to hit the ground running. I have been playing well with Barnsley and there’s no reason I can’t take that form into the Villa team. There will be a bedding-in period but I demand a lot of myself so I want to make an impact straightaway.
‘Challenges are what excite and motivate me and this is a challenge, to prove to myself that I can step up again and improve. I’ve had some hard days before and I’m sure I’ll have hard days again but I’m mentally strong enough and tough enough now to handle playing for such a big club like Villa.’