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The inevitability of the breakup didn’t numb Barnsley’s pain. That they knew it was coming wasn’t comforting.
Conor Hourihane was the most wanted player in the championship. The level of admiration the club’s fans had for their captain was corroborated by what became of their promotion to the Premier League after his departure.
When Aston Villa awarded him in January 2017, Barnsley was on the top eighth place, within four points of a play-off place. At the end of the campaign, they were 22 points down in 14th place after winning just one of their last 14 games.
The sales of defenseman James Bree and striker Sam Winnall, who moved to Villa and Sheffield on Wednesday, also affected Barnsley, but the Hourihane loss was more serious.
A petition launched by Barnsley fans asking the club to turn down all offers for its coveted midfielder had been futile.
“I think he’s in good hands up there [among the greats at the club],” said Liam Dyson, editor of Barnsley FC’s West Stand Bogs fanzine, before Hourihane completed his transfer.
“No player has been more of an impact in such a short time and you have to consider the journey. Captain us to two Wembley wins and dizzying heights in the championship, which means he will always be careful whatever happens next. But if he manages to get us promoted, we’ll probably have to rename the city after him. “
Hourihane scores a free kick for Aston Villa against Newcastle United.
Source: Nick Potts
Hourihane went on before Barnsley could be baptized in honor of the man from Bandon, West Cork. Four years later, he is aiming for an unfortunate end to a season that has been the club’s best for 21 years.
Hourihane has been on loan to Swansea City since January, following tomorrow night for the first leg of the championship play-off semi-finals Barnsley travel (the second leg is scheduled for Saturday). The winners will face Bournemouth or Brentford in a Wembley final on May 29, when a place in the Premier League is at stake.
In its 134 years of existence, Barnsley has been at the top of English football only once took part. Their 1997 promotion to the Premier League was overseen by Danny Wilson, who was unable to prevent relegation from the championship, when he returned for a second term as manager in December 2013. By the following summer, Hourihane had in three Seasons accumulated 142 appearances at Plymouth Argyle, where he was named captain by manager Peter Reid at the age of 21.
For a League One club, £ 200,000 was a substantial sum spent on a League Two player had to become. Still, it was a reflection of what Barnsley boss Hourihane thought his team was.
“I’ve been following Conor’s progress over the past few years with great interest,” Wilson told The42. “He was a great boy and from my point of view a very good signature at Barnsley.
“ I visited him a couple of times in Plymouth. He was the type of player we needed at Barnsley – a talented young man who played regularly. It says a lot about him that he was entrusted with their captain at such a young age.
“We could see his quality when we first saw him and he had the creativity we needed. The club itself and the owner, Patrick Cryne, did a very, very good job of reaching out to him because it wasn’t cheap for a club like Barnsley. “
Danny Wilson is celebrating after leading Barnsley to promotion to the Premier League in 1997.
After Hourihane’s move to Barnsley was announced in June 2014, Wilson mentioned the leadership and ability to score goals from midfield when briefing the press on his main characteristics. From the very beginning, the new number 8 of the Tykes offered an abundance of both.
He received the first award as League One Player of the Month of the 2014/15 season and scored six goals in his first eight appearances for the club. He marked his first game as captain with a 2-0 win over Yeovil Town and ended the season with 14 goals and 16 assists.
In his sophomore year at Oakwell, Hourihane Barnsley drove to two Wembley Finals wins. They took the EFL Trophy at Oxford United’s expense, but of far greater significance was the win over Millwall in the play-off decision that secured the club’s return to the championship. He again contributed directly to the scoring of 30 goals, his personal record of 11 was supplemented by 19 assists.
The influence of Hourihane on the Barnsley team was increased by the higher quality of the opponents he faced in 2016/17, in no way affected. After scoring six goals and 12 assists in 25 games, Aston Villa was persuaded to pay £ 3m for a player who would have been available for free six months later.
A stunning free kick that turned a 3-2 -The seal of victory against Leeds United was Hourihane’s parting gift to Barnsley fans whose hearts were broken by his departure.
In a statement announcing his move to Villa Park, the club said: “Conor was an extremely popular personality at the club and we fully appreciate that this news disappoints from our enormous supporters. The club shares this feeling.
“Losing a player with Conor’s footballing and personal qualities is always difficult, and allowing a player of his caliber to leave the club has never been easy.”“During his two and a half years at Oakwell, Conor behaved with the utmost professionalism and respect, and to credit the club, his colleagues and the fans.
“He was a jersey player who gave it his all, an exceptional servant to Barnsley Football Club and a player who played a key role in the club’s rise from the League One relegation zone to the very edge of the play-offs of the Championship played. ”
Despite being an Aston Villa player when the time came, it was his form at Barnsley that earned Hourihane his first international for the Republic of Ireland in a friendly against Iceland in March 2017.
Discarded as a 20-year-old with no Ipswich Town first team experience, he had to work his way up from the bottom up to become an international footballer. After winning the championship play-offs in 2019, Villa made it to the Premier League.
“You could see that potential in him from the start because football was changing,” said Wilson. “You just have to look at the types of players who are pushed to the top of the teams. There was a certain style of play that would take football forward, and Conor fell into that category.
“He’s a very creative player, very talented, great on the ball, a fantastic left foot and a very good passer. He had everything a modern footballer needs. Not only that, he also had the temperament to do it.
“I always found him very mature. When he came to Barnsley, the owner and I had a good place with him in a hotel in Manchester, and I was immediately very impressed by him.
“He understood football and its role and responsibility and was very willing to make the most of everything that was ahead of him. He could feel that he took a step forward in his career and he was very excited about it. “
The life after Conor Hourihane was initially a struggle for Barnsley. The decline after his departure continued into the 2017/18 season, which culminated in a descent from the championship n to make an immediate return by finishing second in the premier league.
Hourihane has now been capped by Ireland 24 times.
Source: Bryan Keane / INPHO
“Hourihane is still one of Barnsley’s most popular players for the past 20 years,” says journalist Doug O’Kane, who covers the club for the Barnsley Chronicle.
” Since the glory days of the late 1990s, when Barnsley reached the Premier League and another play-off final in 2000, only Adam Hammill had realistically competed for fan affection – until this new group of players started making minor performances to perform miracles. “
In the final round of the final round of play last July in the 2019-20 championship campaign, Barnsley was back on the path to relegation until he scored a goal from Clarke Oduor in the 91st minute in a 2-1 win in Brentford was saved.
Just 10 months since they were sentenced to another season in English football within seconds, Barnsley dreams of the Premier League again.
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Under the direction of the former Bayern Munich defender Valerien Ismael, they advanced to the play-offs with a fifth place. A key factor in that success was the shape of the man who was signed to fill the position vacated by Hourihane.
When the Irish midfielder’s relationship with Barnsley ended, the club plunged into paying off its split and beat Leeds United’s Alex Mowatt.
The 26-year-old Englishman overcame a threatening start to his time at Oakwell and won the club’s “Player of the Year” award in 2020. He is currently the club’s captain and was recently named to the championship team of the season.
“Mowatt was essentially signed as a replacement for Hourihane but was sent off on his debut and loaned out to Oxford United the following season while Barnsley was relegated, “explains O’Kane.
Alex Mowatt has become a key player for Barnsley.
“But he’s been ubiquitous ever since, taking on Hourihane’s coat as midfield maestro and talisman captain, and even recreating his spectacular long-range goals and superb set pieces.”
Mowatt and Hourihane are expected to be on on the other side of a midfield clash that may play an important role in determining whether it will be Barnsley or Swansea City heading to Wembley on Saturday.
For Hourihane, the future is beyond the play-offs uncertain. Driven by the frustration of only being limited to three Premier League starts this season, he watched the loan move to Wales before admitting that it will be “difficult” to regain his place at Villa Park.
Given the outstanding role he had played in the latter stages of last season in avoiding Dean Smith’s relegation, he could justifiably feel annoyed by the lack of opportunity.
“Every manager will have their own style To do things, “says Danny Wilson. “The way Conor helped Villa stay in the Premier League last year was no small feat and it was fantastic what he could do.
” I think Dean Smith would probably tell you that he would prefer Conor to be at the club but as a manager you have to look at the player too. Players like Conor don’t like to sit on the sidelines and not play games. Conor is like that, he just wants to play all the time so I didn’t think there would be any failures there.
“I’m taking my hat off to Conor because I’m not happy to sit around. I wish a lot more players were like that instead of their careers drifting away from them Conor wants to play as many games as possible at the highest level for as long as he can, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
“He’s been loaned out and now has another chance to win the play-offs. He’s already done it at Barnsley and Aston Villa, like that that the experience he’s had – even though he’s only 30 – could benefit Swansea.
Hourihane is congratulated after a Swansea City goal against Brentford.
“From Barnsley’s point of view, I would expect them to keep a close eye on him. With his set play and quality on the ball, he’ll be the key to Swansea’s attacking game.
” Who will win it? Barnsley had a fantastic run and they were brilliant under [Valerien] Ismael, but I think Swansea may be ahead. They’re the least fantasized team in the bookies’ play-offs right now, and that takes some of the strain off them.
“That’ll improve their chances of getting promoted and if they did, I wouldn’t be at all surprise when Conor has a big say. “
Earlier this week, Hourihane described Barnsley as” a club I really like “. If their path to the Premier League is blocked by a player who has been adored by the club’s fans, is it likely that he is tarnishing his reputation in the corner of South Yorkshire?
“Unless he’s something particularly controversial does, “says Doug O’Kane,” and he had the ability to win opponents that many Barnsley fans loved when he was on their team, then I think he’ll keep his legendary status regardless of that. ” of the result. “
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Hourihane wants to destroy the Premier League’s hopes for a club that still loves him