Republic of Ireland midfielder Conor Hourihane stands out in Gibraltar win
European 2020 Qualifying Group D: Gibraltar 0 Republic of Ireland 1
ONE of the few shafts of light to emerge from the Republic of Ireland’s banana-skin Euro 2020 opener in Gibraltar on Saturday night was the midfield excellence of Conor Hourihane.
The Aston Villa man might have been winning only his seventh international cap but he played like he had 25 to his name.
Hourihane got the nod ahead of Harry Arter, Glenn Whelan and Robbie Brady who were all jockeying for the midfield berth beside Jeff Hendrick.
“I was delighted to get the nod,” said 28-year-old Cork man.
“I feel like I’ve had a good season for Villa, I’ve been playing week in week out for a while now.
“With it being a fresh start under the new manager we weren’t sure how he was going to go so I was delighted to be picked and delighted to be part of getting three points.”
Hendrick’s 49th minute strike was enough to bank the win in Saturday night’s Euro 2020 opener against Group D minnows Gibraltar as the Irish look ahead to tomorrow night’s equally tricky encounter with Georgia in Dublin.
On the evidence of Saturday night’s performance, though, Hourihane could make one of the central midfield berths his own in McCarthy’s second era, in charge especially given his expertise at set pieces.
The former Sunderland and Ipswich midfielder didn’t get a lot opportunities to shine during the Martin O’Neill era, although he did start in the 4-1 Nations League defeat to Wales last year.
“It’s been great,” Hourihane said of the new era.
“It’s been like a breath of fresh air. Everyone is on a new playing field and excited about the campaign ahead.
“We wanted to get off to a good start and thankfully we did. We need to get back and recover now and prepare for Georgia. We know they’re not an easy side. We’ll have to get ready for that.”
Reflecting on the narrow win over Gibraltar, he said: “It wasn’t easy, the pitch wasn’t easy, there were gale force winds and I’m not sure whether the TV will have done that any justice, but the ball was swirling around, that’s for sure. It wasn’t easy so we have to be delighted with getting a win.”
Meanwhile, Shane Duffy defended the Martin O’Neill era as the big Derry man aims to qualify for his second major finals for the Republic.
Comparing McCarthy and O’Neill’s managerial approaches, the Brighton defender said: “I enjoyed it under Martin as well. It was quite relaxed.
“We didn’t get the results we wanted towards the end, but it was quite relaxed under Martin and I enjoyed the years under him.
“When you get a new manager you get a new bounce off it and everyone feels excited and eager.”