Talented West Cork soccer star Conor Hourihane is hoping to emulate last seasons’ personal heroics, which saw the ace midfielder net 14 goals for League 1 outfit Barnsley FC.
The Bandon native returned to pre-season training recently determined to fire the Tykes into promotion contention this season. Despite Conor’s impressive personal displays last season, Barnsley finished in 11th place, a somewhat disappointing season for the Yorkshire club, who were heavily tipped to enjoy a strong season as they ultimately finished seven points adrift of a top six finish.
Conor is confident that talented young manager Lee Johnson, who was appointed in February earlier this year, following the dismissal of Danny Wilson, can propel the Yorkshire based outfit into promotion contenders this season, as the gifted midfielder explained when he spoke to John Bohane recently.
“Of course that is the plan. We should be looking for promotion this season, Barnsley are one of the bigger teams in this league so it has to be our goal. Teams always set out their goals and aspirations at the start of the season and our aim is to be competing at the top end of the division for promotion to the Championship. The gaffer (Lee Johnson) is a very good young manager. He has come in with his own ideas that I really enjoy so I’m really enjoying playing for him. It will be important to start the season well. It is a tough division with a lot of very good teams all striving for promotion. Hopefully come the end of the season we will be in the mix and competing hard for promotion.”
Conor enjoyed a brilliant debut season with Barnsley following his £200,000 move last summer from League 2 side Plymouth Argyle. The former Sunderland trainee enjoyed a fantastic three years with the Pilgrims whom he joined after he left Ipswich Town. Conor made an impressive 125 appearances for the Pilgrims and netted 15 goals during his successful tenure with Plymouth. Conor was rewarded for his impressive displays with the South Coast club with the captaincy, a proud accolade for such a young player. Conor’s impressive displays for the League 2 club aroused signficant interest from clubs operating in the upper echelons of the English league. Conor ultimately signed for Barnsley FC, convinced by their ambitious plans to mount a sustained bid for promotion back to the championship.
“It was definitely the right move for me last summer, as I’m always looking to improve as a player so coming to a league above was an attraction in itself. I had a great three years at Plymouth. I’ll always have a soft spot for them. Everybody there was fantastic with me. It was an honour to captain such a great club. The time was right to move on however. I am delighted I joined Barnsley. It is a very good club which I believe has a very bright future and I want to help them achieve their goals.”
The former Douglas Hall underage star made the transition up a division with relative ease. Conor’s guile in possession allied to his much-vaunted eye for goal led to him being crowned the fans Player of the Year, an award accepted with pride by the unassuming Cork man. “It was great to top the season off with the fans Player of the Year award. It is always nice to get recognition from other people. I was very happy with my form last year. It was a big year for me on a personal level after Barnsley showed so much faith in me. It was important to repay their faith in me. The season went great for me. I was very eager to have a good season. I scored 14 goals last year so I’m looking to improve on that this season. I’m a player who is always looking to improve.”
Following the conclusion of the playing season last May, Conor enjoyed a relaxing holiday back home in West Cork over the summer with friends and family, which he thoroughly enjoyed. “It is always great coming back home to Bandon. I don’t get home very often, which is a shame due to our heavy league schedule, so when I do come home it is a great feeling. I had a great summer around Bandon and Cork, meeting up with friends and family. I’m already looking forward to coming home next summer.”
Conor returned to the gruelling rigours of pre-season training recently with the Tykes. Despite its perceived reputation as every footballers worst nightmare, Conor relished his return to competitive action. “We started back last month with an intense training programme so we are over the worst of it by now. This division is a very competitive league with a lot of games throughout the course of the season so our fitness levels have to be very good. Pre-season is always tough but I find if you are strong-minded and strong-willed, you get through it a lot easier as a lot of the pre-season training is mental. We begin our season on Saturday, August 8, with an away game against Chesterfield. It will be a tough fixture but hopefully we can begin the campaign well. There is always great excitement at this stage of the season. I can’t wait for the season to begin.”
The shortage of goalscoring midfielders in the current Republic of Ireland senior squad was evidenced again recently, as they recorded successive blanks against England and Scotland respectively. Conor, who has represented the Irish underage teams right through to U21 level, still harbours dreams of receiving a call up to the senior squad in the foreseeable future.
The 24-year-old however, concedes that he might have to be plying his trade at a higher level to receive the call up to the international senior squad from Martin O’Neill, as he acknowledged. “I think you need to be playing in the Championship or above it to get called into the Irish international senior team. Of course it is a dream of mine and it’s something I try and work towards everyday.”
Conor’s immediate targets are to help Barnsley secure promotion back to the Championship for the first time in two years, while emulating last seasons’ brilliant personal displays are also high on his agenda. “I’m just looking to keep improving, have a good pre-season and go into the new season flying. My aim is to kick on from last season.”