Conor Hourihane's Performance Could Answer Prayers Of Stephen Kenny

Conor Hourihane's Performance Could Answer Prayers Of Stephen Kenny
By Gary Connaughton
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Heading into next month's Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia, it seems that much of the Ireland team is settled.

Darren Randolph will be in goals, while John Egan, Shane Duffy, and Enda Stevens are also assured of a place in the starting XI. We imagine Matt Doherty will probably continue at right back, while Aaron Connolly and David McGoldrick are also likely to start.

The position of right winger is up for grabs, as are the three spots in midfield.

Stephen Kenny made only three changes to the starting team for his second game in charge, but all of those came in the middle third. James McCarthy, Conor Hourihane, and Jeff Hendrick started the game in Sofia, with the trio making way for the fixture against the Finns.

None of them put in their best performance against Bulgaria. Hourihane dropped very deep at times, getting on the ball a lot but often failing to move it with the type of urgency or decisiveness that Stephen Kenny wants from his midfielders.

The Aston Villa man drifted onto the left flank throughout, but his deliveries into the penalty area were not really up to scratch. His presence out wide also seemed to leave less room for Enda Stevens and Aaron Connolly to operate.

It's fair to say things didn't work out for him.


Now back on club duty, we have been given a glimpse at what Hourihane can offer to a team.

He played a starring role in Aston Villa's victory over Fulham this evening, scoring one goal and assisting another. It was a very strong performance from the Cork native, and it was notable that he carried out a very different role to the one we have become accustomed to seeing him fill for Ireland.


Hourihane broke forward throughout the game, getting into the opposition box on a regular basis. His first goal arrived from this method, timing his run into the penalty area perfectly to get on the end of an Ollie Watkins lay-off.



This was a recurring theme throughout the game.

His assist came via a more familiar method, expertly picking out Tyrone Mings from a set-piece.


It was interesting to see the 29-year old flourish in this role.

In both of the games earlier this month, Ireland failed to support the lone striker to any great degree. Adam Idah found himself isolated up front more often than not, something that had a detrimental effect on the team as a whole.

This evening, Hourihane showed he is capable of pushing further up the pitch. It is something that could be a big addition to Ireland if he is given the freedom to do it.


Having runners from midfield has been an issue for a number of years. While Ireland don't score goals at any great frequency, it is notable just how few of the come from central midfielders. Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane, James McCarthy, Harry Arter, Jayson Molumby, and Robbie Brady (the six central midfielders who featured this month) have a combined 11 goals in 181 international caps, with eight of those coming from Brady.

Much of that can be put down to the shackles placed on players in that position under previous regimes, but it is certainly something Stephen Kenny will be looking to improve upon.

Giving Hourihane a more advanced role in the team, such as the one we saw this evening, could go a long way to doing just that.

See Also: Irish Player Ratings: Robinson & Coleman Hitting Form At The Right Time

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