10 December 2021
By Roger Jones
There would have been moments over the last six months where Conor Hourihane had to face up to a rather depressing reality, especially after the 30-year-old midfielder was jettisoned by Premier League Aston Villa and sent down to the Championship to ply his trade with Sheffield United. It would have been a real kick in the teeth after all the hard work that Hourihane had put into getting Villa promoted, only to find himself back in the second tier of English football.
It would have been even harder to see his former Villa teammate and a man with whom he shared a partnership in the middle of the park, Jack Grealish, go to Manchester City whilst he went to down-and-out Sheffield. Grealish, who is also priced as one of the sports personality of the year betting 2021 leading candidates, ended up signing a mega-deal with City only a few weeks before Hourihane was loaned to the Blades and you can imagine that Hourihane would have perhaps done the unadvisable practice of comparing their two trajectories.
It should be said before we continue that the latest spoty 2021 tips don’t predict Grealish to be the eventual winner, but the point stands, everyone in Villa’s promotion class of 2019 seemed to be going from strength to strength with many players’ careers taking off whilst Hourihane was going in the opposite direction.
PREMIER LEAGUE!! What dreams are made of!! ??? pic.twitter.com/GGI9JnGQOE
— Conor Hourihane (@ConorHourihane) May 27, 2019
When a professional footballer finds themself in this position, it should be stressed that it is nigh on impossible to find the needed motivation to make a success of their new remit. Indeed, once a player has run the gauntlet of the Championship and achieved promotion, there is a sense that those days of hardship are over and the big time awaits in the Premier League. Being asked to do it again would leave any player reflecting on their actual value and whether it was worth it. After all, if promotion was attained once more, would they be good enough to make a career in the top flight and not be sent down to the first division again to assist some other promotion hopefuls?
Conor Hourihane fires Aston Villa level
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) May 11, 2019
Cork’s Conor Hourihane is made of sterner stuff though and ever since joining the Blades in late August, the 30-year-old has given every inch of himself towards the promotion charge.
It’s worth saying that it hasn’t been an easy environment to succeed in either after the manager who brought Hourihnae in, Slavisa Jokanovic, was sacked after only six months in charge. But it does seem like that was a blessing in disguise as new Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom has made Hourihane a focal point in his team. The feeling of admiration is mutual as Hourihane has gone on to describe his new manager as a “brilliant man and brilliant coach”.
Crucially, Sheffield United haven’t lost since Paul Heckingbottom was appointed and are back in the race for a play-off position which is a significant development as promotion pushes are all about timing. Indeed, Conor Houriane and Sheffield United have found their range after a tough start to life in the Championship which means that there is every chance both player and club could make an immediate return to the Premier League.