Football/Soccer

I'd never turn down international call-up: Ireland's Conor Hourihane

Republic of Ireland's Conor Hourihane is hoping a vaccine can be found soon for Covid19

Nations League Group B4: Republic of Ireland v Bulgaria (tonight, Dublin, 7.45pm)

DESPITE the ubiquitous nature of Coronavirus culling another couple of players from the Republic of Ireland squad ahead of tonight’s key Nations League tie with Bulgaria, Conor Hourihane says he never considered declining a call-up.

Ireland’s last three camps have been wracked by Covid19 issues with manager Stephen Kenny unable to get remotely near fielding his first-choice starting team.

Having played in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff, James McClean and Matt Doherty tested positive for the virus and are ruled out of tonight's final Nations League game.

With the increased risk associated with international games, and Jose Mourinho the latest club manager crying foul over the problems they’re creating, Hourihane had no second thoughts of turning up for Ireland’s games against England, Wales and now Bulgaria in Dublin tonight.

During yesterday’s Zoom call with reporters, he revealed he’d lost a family relative to the deadly virus.

“I suppose I’m probably letting you in on a bit of personal information,” said the Cork man.

“I do feel safe [on international duty]. Obviously the tests are a big part of that. Not taking it home is hugely important for myself especially with what’s happened with my family over the last few months; my partner’s pregnant as well, so I don’t want to be taking anything back to her. There are a lot of factors. Once I don’t get it and don’t take it home that’s all that matters at the end of day.

“But listen, I’m just a normal lad. I’m talking to you as a normal lad from Cork. When I come to these interviews I’m not robotic, I talk normally to you. I would never have pulled out.

“That’s just a selfish part of being an athlete. You have to be little bit selfish in this game. I was never going to pull out. I love playing for Ireland. It’s a very short career. It flashes by in a blink of an eye. Any call-up, I’ll always be here.”

Following the various Covid19-related issues engulfing international teams around the globe during last month’s round of fixtures, some doubt was cast over the viability of the games going ahead this month, especially given the flight travel involved for players

“I thought that might have been a factor for this trip,” Hourihane said.

“For the October meet-up, I thought there were a lot of issues going on, a lot of positives tests with pull-outs and people going back to clubs and not being able to play. So I thought this November trip might have been in jeopardy, that there may be conversations around that where clubs mightn’t allow players to go.

“But hopefully come March there might be light at the end of the tunnel.”

Yesterday’s Zoom briefing with the Aston Villa midfielder centred more on non-footballing matters and players trying to remain safe on international trips.

In recent days, pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna have claimed major breakthroughs in the race to find a safe vaccine against Covid19, with both boasting over 90 per cent success rates.

“It’s brilliant for everyone to get that little bit of a lift,” said Hourihane. “It’s fantastic to hear. The vaccine is going to be a massive part of, by the sound if it, getting out of this mess.

“The sooner it is dripped into communities the better. We all want to see the back of this period.

“Hopefully that little bit of good news will help people’s mental health because I know loads and loads of people are struggling. Any bit of good news in this doom and gloom is important and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Born in Bandon, Hourihane turns 30 in February and will undoubtedly be needed in Dublin tonight given the lack of midfield options the manager has at his disposal with Jeff Hendrick and Jayson Molumby suspended.

“I think everybody has to admit that and I think we’ve been struck by it really hard – even close contacts, false positives and all the rest of it. I know it sounds like a broken record but it’s the truth.

"Yes, we’re all professional footballers and we’re going out to try and get results but the changing personnel and the 'are-you-positive-are-you-negative', it’s not easy and it disturbs the flow of things. We’re all eager and desperate to get a result, a couple of goals and put these three camps to put and move onto March [World Cup qualifiers].”

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Football/Soccer