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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

Andrews praises 'brilliant' Irish duo who helped secure Aston Villa's Premier League status

Glenn Whelan and Conor Hourihane have been an important part of the Villains’ squad over the course of the season.

Aston Villa's Glenn Whelan, John McGinn and Conor Hourihane celebrate victory (file pic).
Aston Villa's Glenn Whelan, John McGinn and Conor Hourihane celebrate victory (file pic).
Image: Nick Potts

KEITH ANDREWS WAS full of praise for Conor Hourihane and former Ireland team-mate Glenn Whelan after the duo helped secure Aston Villa’s Premier League status.

Whelan and Hourihane made 40 and 53 appearances in all competitions respectively amid a campaign that saw Villa gain promotion after beating Derby 2-1 in Monday’s Championship play-off final.

“The age I am, Aston Villa were always a top Premier League club. You go back to the late ’80s, early ’90s when the Premier League started. Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, Steve Staunton, a lot of Irish players associated with Aston Villa.

“It’s obviously been a tough run the last few years with the financial problems and the takeover.

“But the two lads have been brilliant. And ironically, it was going to be one or the other who played in the play-off game. Conor — the more attacking option — got the nod. Glenn would be more of a secure option. I asked Dean Smith afterwards and he said it was a very difficult decision because of the two strengths they had.

“It’s brilliant because the Sheffield United lads have gone up. We’re going to have an extra couple of [Irish] players in the Premier League next year. At a minimum three — David McGoldrick, Enda Stevens and John Egan. And now we’ll get minimum Conor. What will happen with Scott Hogan I’m not so sure, because he was out on loan at Sheffield United and Glenn’s out of contract, so hopefully he can sort that out.

“It’s always a great occasion. Sometimes the game let’s you down because of what’s at stake, the whole emotional side, but brilliant from the two lads — I thought they were brilliant throughout the season, I’ve seen a lot of them.”

Hourihane has gained a reputation as a goalscoring midfielder, finding the net 10 times in all competitions this season, including a crucial free kick in the 2-1 first-leg win over West Brom.

The Cork native, however, has been asked to play more of a holding role of late, and Andrews is impressed with how the 28-year-old has adapted to this new position.

“It’s not his natural position. I would have had reservations earlier in the season about him playing that particular role. He’s at his best like we saw against Georgia — Glenn Whelan holding and Jeff Hendrick and him pushing forward. That’s his best position.

“But I think he’s been very responsible and reliable when he’s had to play the deeper role, as he did against West Brom in the second leg — he came on in the first leg when they dominated. In the second leg, he held his position well. He wants to get forward, because he’s got a wand of a left foot, but he played very reliably yesterday.”

Of course, while it was a great day for Villa’s Irish contingent, there was heartbreak for another Irish international — Derby’s Richard Keogh. Since joining the club in 2012, the 32-year-old defender has helped the Rams reach the play-offs on four occasions, though the promised land of the Premier League has remained elusive. The 2014 final loss against QPR was particularly hard to take, when an error from Keogh led to their opponents’ 90th-minute winner.

“It was built up as maybe a day of redemption for him from five years ago — that unfortunate incident where he set Bobby Zamora up to score.

But it’s just one of those incidents. He’s played nearly 350 games for Derby County, he’s been an absolute pillar for their football club. He’s shepherded a lot of the young exuberant talent they’ve had. The likes of Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori alongside him at the back. He’s been magnificent, he got Player of the Year, he’s also got the nod at centre half for Ireland. So it’s a shame for him, and also Shay Given is part of the coaching staff there, but we couldn’t have everyone winning from an Irish angle.”

18-year-old midfielder Jason Knight, who was on the bench for Derby, is another player Andrews knows well, having worked with him in the Ireland underage set-up.

“He’s in the U21 squad. I’ve had Jason at U16 level. He’s played all the way through our underage teams — a very bright young player, a wise head on young shoulders, an infectious character and it’s been brilliant for him being involved in the play-offs. He obviously didn’t play, but it’ll be great experience for him.”

Virgin Media Television is the home of European Football this week with live coverage of the Uefa Europa League Final on Wednesday 29th May from 6.30pm on both Virgin Media Two & Virgin Media Sport and the UEFA Champions League Final on Saturday 1st June from 6pm on Virgin Media One & Virgin Media Sport.

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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