| 16.7°C Dublin

stars rested Conor Hourihane shrugs off Kevin De Bruyne link to focus on revival of his Irish career

Close

Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor Hourihane during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It’s a nod to the greatness of one Belgian in particular that Stephen Kenny labels a move used by Conor Hourihane on Ireland duty as a “De Bruyne cross”.

The Manchester City maestro won’t make it to Dublin this week as De Bruyne, among other big names who just don’t need to play friendly games for a World Cup-bound national team, has been rested by manager Roberto Martinez for Saturday’s meeting with Ireland at Lansdowne Road. But his status in the game is in marked contrast to the options available to Kenny.

Of the six midfielders named in Kenny’s squad for this international double-header, none are currently playing in the Premier League with half of them on loan to lower league clubs. The two Cork-born players who are likely to play a central role on Saturday have been through testing times, with club and country.

Even Hourihane has enough humility to admit that comparisons between him and De Bruyne are wide of the mark. “I think there’s a bit of a difference between me and Kevin De Bruyne to be honest,” he says with a smile when asked about Kenny’s comment regarding his crosses in the win over Andorra.

“That Andorra game there was a bit of a plan for those sort of crosses so it was just something we worked on on the training ground at the time and when you go out and do something on the training ground and it comes off in a game it’s very satisfying.”

De Bruyne marches on this season towards more silverware with the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup all realistically in his sights. Aims for Irish players are more grounded as they try to overcome hurdles.

Last week, Hourihane watched with envy as Sheffield United team-mates Adam Davies and Rhys Norrington-Davies went off to prepare for Wales’ World Cup play-off against Austria, while the Blades’ Irish contingent of Hourihane and John Egan try to work up excitement for a friendly against a side who have already qualified for Qatar 2022. “It was mentioned of course, there was no getting away from that,” he says of his last chats with the Welsh boys.

“They’ve got a big game ahead of them this week for themselves and we would love to be a part of that but you can’t change the past unfortunately, it is what it is. Best of luck to Wales for this week, they’ll obviously be right up for that. It is disappointing [that Ireland are not there] but it is what it is.”

Hourihane says he is enjoying his football while on loan to Sheffield United from Aston Villa as his Villa contract runs down, but goals are scarce: he last found the net, for club or country, a full 12 months ago, a run of 45 goal-free games, the longest drought of his career.

“I’ve probably been in and out of the side over the last few camps, but Stephen has been great with me. Club form obviously comes into it. Sheffield United are going well and I’ve been playing,” he says.

Alan Browne has at least scored this term (two goals in 34 games for Preston) but his form has also dipped, to a stage where he lost his place in the Ireland side, though Covid was a factor in his drop down the pecking order.

Hourihane (31) and Browne (25) both have ambitions to play in the Premier League (play again, in the case of Hourihane) but for now, the duo focus on Ireland. “Probably disappointing overall at club and international level, but I think they go hand in hand,” Browne says when asked to sum up his year.

“I think I’ve probably been more unfortunate at international level, I mentioned before about Covid and injuries and I probably fell out of favour. But at club level I still feel like I could do a bit more. I think my form has probably picked up, I’ve a lot more to give, especially at this level and hopefully we can see that over the next couple of months.”

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy