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From Barnsley to Birmingham: Villa complete deal for Irish star Hourihane

The highly-coveted Corkman has been in demand after an impressive Championship season so far.

CHMainWeb Source: AVFC.co.uk

ASTON VILLA HAVE won the race to sign in-form Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane.

The Irish midfielder has been in demand during the January transfer window after enjoying an impressive season so far for the Championship club. In 28 appearances in all competitions for the Tykes in the 2016-17 campaign, Hourihane has scored six goals and provided 12 assists.

The Corkman had attracted plenty of attention from other clubs. Sheffield Wednesday were believed to be close to sealing a deal, there was also reported interest from Crystal Palace, as well as from several clubs in the MLS and Scottish Premiership.

However, Villa have this afternoon announced that Hourihane will join the club on a three-and-a-half-year deal for an undisclosed fee which is believed to be in the region of £3 million. The player’s contract with Barnsley was due to expire this summer.

“I’m really pleased to be here,” Hourihane told Villa’s official website. “Aston Villa are a massive club and I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my career and developing further as a player under Steve Bruce.

Barnsley v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Oakwell Source: Anna Gowthorpe

“I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone connected to Barnsley Football Club; from the owner, to the head coach, the backroom staff, and of course to the supporters who have been amazing to me throughout my time at Oakwell.”

Barnsley paid £250,000 to Plymouth Argyle for Hourihane in 2014. The Bandon native had been appointed captain at Plymouth at the age of 21, having joined the League Two club after being released by Ipswich Town in 2011.

Last season he captained Barnsley to silverware at Wembley twice — in the Football League Trophy final against Oxford United and in the League One play-off decider against Millwall.

With Hourihane providing more assists than any other player in the Championship this season, Barnsley have found themselves in eighth place in English football’s second tier, just four points outside the play-off places.

Although he’ll be departing for a bigger club and a substantial wage increase — understood to be £30,000 per week — Hourihane is dropping down the table to join a club who find themselves in 13th.

Conor Hourihane Source: Cathal Noonan

However, Villa are keen to make a push for promotion back to the Premier League in the second half of the season, having also signed Nottingham Forest captain Henri Lansbury, Icelandic international Birkir Bjarnason and Hourihane’s Barnsley team-mate James Bree in the current transfer window. Manchester United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone has also joined the Birmingham club on loan.

In a club statement, Barnsley FC said: “Conor made it clear to the board that he saw the move as an opportunity to further his career and he wanted to pursue the move.

“Under these circumstances, and considering that Conor’s contract was coming to an end in the summer where he could transfer for free, the club respected that decision and reluctantly allowed him to move on for a significant fee and sell-on.

“Conor was a hugely popular figure at the club and we fully appreciate that this news will be met with disappointment from our tremendous supporters. The club firmly shares this sentiment. It is always difficult losing a player of Conor’s footballing and personal qualities, and allowing a player of his calibre to leave the club was never an easy decision.”

Hourihane played under Villa boss Steve Bruce during his time at Sunderland, who he joined from Douglas Hall. The midfielder, who has represented his country up as far as U21 level, was called up to provisional Republic of Ireland squads for the recent World Cup qualifiers against Georgia, Moldova and Austria but he has yet to make his senior international debut.

“Since the last international break and leading up to the next one, I’ve felt like I’ve continued to play consistently well. I’m sure they’re watching and looking at what I’m doing. Hopefully in the near future I’ll get into the official matchday squad,” Hourihane told RTÉ earlier this month.

“Playing for your country would be fantastic; born and bred Irish, Cork lad, it’s something I’ve always worked towards so that would be definitely a goal of mine. I’m hoping to achieve that in 2017.”

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Paul Dollery

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