Experienced midfielder Conor Hourihane has become the latest player to put pen-to-paper on a contract with Derby County as they prepare for their upcoming Sky Bet League One campaign.
Hourihane has signed a two-year contract with the Rams and becomes Derby’s fourth signing of the summer.
Let’s learn a little bit more about Derby’s newest recruit:
Born in Bandon, a town in County Cork, Ireland, Hourihane was on the radar of many English clubs who had taken an interest in the midfielder from a young age.
He elected to join then Premier League side Sunderland in 2007 and started his career in the North East on a scholarship with the club. After two years, he impressed with his performances and earned his first senior contract with the club.
However, in 2010, without making a single appearance for the Black Cats and with his deal set to expire, Hourihane was on the move.
Sunderland did offer him fresh terms, but the midfielder was keen to link back up with his former boss and idol Roy Keane, who was the manager of then Championship side Ipswich Town at the time.
However, the move did not go to plan. He struggled to make his mark in the first team and without a single appearance under his belt, he left Portman Road after one season.
His only competitive appearances at that time had come for his country as he represented the Republic of Ireland at Under-19 and Under-21 level.
He played 14 times for the Under-19s, whilst he scored one goal in eight appearances for the Under-21s.
Now 20-years-of-age, Hourihane knew he needed to play games in order to progress his career further. He went on trial to Plymouth Argyle, who were playing in League Two, and went on to secure a contract a week prior to the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Seven days later, he made his professional debut in an opening day draw against Shrewsbury Town at the New Meadow.
He went on to become a consistent member of the team and scored his senior goal in a 3-2 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge in October 2011.
He scored once more before the end of the campaign and in total made 42 appearances in his maiden season as a first-team player.
Such was his promise, he was handed the captain’s armband at Home Park during the 2012/13 campaign at the age of just 21.
With clear leadership qualities, the added responsibility brought the best out of the midfielder. However, it was a season of struggle for Plymouth as they narrowly avoided relegation to the fifth tier by a solitary point. Despite that, the Hourihane did play 47 times and scored five goals.
On The Move
Hourihane went into his third consecutive season with Plymouth in League Two in the summer of 2013, but there were several clubs interested in securing his services.
Whilst a move did not materialise, he continued to get his head down and show what a talented midfielder he was.
The 2013/14 season proved to be one of his best as he only missed one game owing to suspension and scored nine goals. Wearing the captain’s armband, he made 53 appearances in total but with the Pilgrims still in the fourth tier, Hourihane decided to move on. The Irishman left Plymouth having played 142 times and scoring 15 goals.
He joined League One side Barnsley, who had aspirations of promotion to the Championship, for a fee of around £250,000. It may have been a step up in terms of status, but Hourihane took to the league like a duck to water, earning the League One Player of the Month for August.
His scoring record was impressive. He netted 11 goals prior to Christmas during the 2014/15 campaign, which included some spectacular strikes. Despite only being four months into the season, it was already his best return in front of goal.
He was again gifted the captain’s armband following a string of stunning displays and finished that season with 14 goals in all competitions, however Barnsley missed out on a place in the play-offs that season.
The following season, 2015/16, could not have gone much better for the midfielder as he skippered the side to promotion and a cup win.
It didn’t start all well, however. Barnsley sat second-bottom in League One in November but stormed back in emphatic style to win promotion via the play-offs.
Led by Hourihane, the midfielder chipped in with 11 goals during the campaign as they beat Oxford United in the EFL Trophy Final 3-2, whilst they got the better of Millwall in the League One Play-Off Final a few months later to secure promotion to the second tier.
Hourihane adapted quickly once again, scoring three in his opening seven games, including a goal on his Championship debut in a 4-2 defeat against Ipswich Town. His form was that impressive, he earned the Championship Player of the Month for August 2016. He also produced five assists during that period.
The midfielder’s performances were attracting interest, mainly from Aston Villa who had just dropped down from the Premier League into the Championship. Despite the interest, he continued to find the back of the net.
He scored either side of the Christmas period, against Norwich City and Nottingham Forest, before scoring in what turned out to be his final league game for Barnsley in a 3-2 victory over Leeds United at Oakwell.
Aston Villa’s interest only grew, and they finally got their man before the end of the 2017 January transfer window as he joined the Midlands club for an undisclosed fee, signing a three-and-a-half year contract.
Achieving His Dreams
Hourihane went straight into Steve Bruce’s starting line-up, but he endured a tough start to life at Villa Park. The Villans lost all of his first five games, including a home defeat against the side Hourihane had just left as they were beaten 3-1 at home by Barnsley.
They would end that run of results with victory, ironically over Derby, before Hourihane scored his first goal for the club in a 2-0 success over Bristol City.
Whilst the move was a step in the right direction for his domestic career, it also opened doors internationally for the footballer who earned his first call up to the Republic of Ireland senior squad in March 2017.
He made his debut in a home defeat against Iceland, but he was only going to go from strength-to-strength as he became a consistent member of their squads moving forward.
Now into the 2017/18 season, Hourihane scored his first ever professional hat-trick by scoring three times in a 4-2 home victory over Norwich City.
He took away the matchball that afternoon as his side battled for a place back in the Premier League at the second time of asking. He scored some key goals that season, too.
The midfielder netted the winning goal against Nottingham Forest in a 2-1 victory, whilst he scored in the fiercely contested local derby clash against Birmingham City in February 2018 in which Villa won 2-0.
Hourihane even scored against former club Barnsley and finished the season with 11 goals, but he was to suffer heartbreak as Villa were beaten 1-0 in the Play-Off Final by Fulham which meant they had to spend a third straight season in the second tier.
Villa did storm back the following season, however. Hourihane was again a key influence in the team as he formed a good partnership with John McGinn and Jack Grealish.
He scored at Pride Park in a 3-0 victory for Villa over Derby in November 2018, whilst in the reverse fixture between the two sides he scored twice at Villa Park as Aston Villa ran out 4-0 winners on an afternoon to forget for the Rams.
Three weeks later, Hourihane toasted another significant milestone in his career as he scored his first international goal for his country in a 1-0 victory over Georgia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
By the end of the season, he would be toasting promotion to the Premier League as he played the full 90 minutes in Villa’s 2-1 victory over the Rams in the Championship Play-Off Final to ensure they were back in the top division after a three-year absence.
From playing in the fourth tier with Plymouth less than five years previous, Hourihane had enjoyed success in League One and the Championship and was ready to test himself on the biggest stage of them all.
On The Biggest Stage
To reward him for his efforts, Hourihane signed a new three-year contract with Villa as he took his place in the top-flight. He was used to making the step up over his career, and this was certainly no different.
He scored his first Premier League goal in a 5-1 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road in August 2019, whilst his second goal came against Newcastle United in a 2-0 victory in November.
Villa struggled in their first season back in the top tier, but they enjoyed success in the Carabao Cup. Dean Smith’s side had knocked out fellow Premier League opposition Brighton & Hove Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool and Leicester City to reach the Final of the competition.
They faced Manchester City in the final of the competition and were narrowly beaten 2-1 at Wembley Stadium. Hourihane was introduced as a second half substitute but could only go away with a runners-up medal that afternoon.
However, days later, football would be halted for three months as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world at a rapid rate. Once football did return three months later in June, Hourihane played in all nine of Aston Villa’s remaining games and played a huge hand in them retaining their Premier League status.
In total, he made 27 top-flight appearances during the prolonged 2019/20 campaign. However, he found opportunities limited in the following season. He did score in a 3-0 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage, but after making only four appearances he was loaned out to Championship side Swansea City in the January Transfer Window.
He made an immediate impact, scoring in three games consecutively, whilst he netted four goals in six games as the Swans fought for a place in the play-offs.
The midfielder played a key role as they finished fourth in the division and reached the Final of the Play-Offs following a Semi-Final victory over his former club Barnsley, but they were beaten 2-0 at Wembley Stadium by Brentford.
Hourihane returned to Villa Park but was soon back out on loan, this time with Sheffield United who had just suffered relegation from the Premier League for the 2021/22 campaign. He spent the full season at Bramall Lane and helped them reach the Championship play-offs, but they were beaten on penalties at the Semi Final stage by Nottingham Forest.
He scored once in 31 appearances for the Blades last season, but now joins Derby for the next chapter in his career.
Hourihane will provide much needed leadership and experience to the midfield having played 483 games in total throughout his career, scoring 82 goals.