Ireland fans react as Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane plays a new role

Dean Smith, Manager of Aston Villa looks dejected as his leaves the pitch following defeat in the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Aston Villa at Griffin Park on February...

Conor Hourihane has played in a number of midfield positions under Dean Smith at Premier League newcomers Aston Villa.

Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa scores for Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup second round match between Crewe Alexandra and Aston Villa at Gresty Road on August 27, 2019 in Crewe, England.

Conor Hourihane isn’t short of flexibility.

He has shone as a box-to-box midfielder under Dean Smith at Aston Villa but he is more than comfortable sitting in front of the defence too, dictating play and breaking up opposition attacks. A few years ago, he was a prolific goalscorer in the lower leagues for Barnsley and Plymouth, thriving in the freedom of a roving number ten role.

Hourihane at left-back, however, feels like a step too far.

At the age of 28, Aston Villa’s Mr Reliable was fielded in a role he’s never played before by Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy during Tuesday’s 3-1 win against Bulgaria. It was a friendly, after all, and friendlies are meant for experimentation.

But even McCarthy himself admitted after the game that Hourihane’s future lies in the centre of the park, rather than on the left of a four-man defence.

Dublin , Ireland - 5 September 2019; Conor Hourihane of Republic of Ireland in action against Granit Xhaka, and Manuel Akanji, right, of Switzerland during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier...

“He's never, ever going to play there because I don't think he can play there,” the Yorkshireman told Virgin Sports in typically straight-talking style.

“He wanted minutes and he asked me beforehand 'Gaffa, can I have some minutes?'. I said, 'well not in midfield because there was always going to be the others [the fringe players], but if you fancy left-back?' And he said, 'Yes, I do'. He has got a wand of a left-foot. But he's not a left-back.”

ROI fans will be breathing a sigh of relief after a performance where Hourihane looked like the very definition of a square peg in a round hole.

Dublin , Ireland - 10 September 2019; Conor Hourihane of Republic of Ireland throws the ball in during the 3 International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria at Aviva...


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