CORK’S most famous sporting son is likely to watch the performance of Conor Hourihane particularly intently tomorrow.
That person is none other than Manchester United legend and current Republic of Ireland assistant-manager Roy Keane, who contacted the Barnsley captain to wish him well ahead of the Reds’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final with Oxford United last month.
A coded message was also likely to have been behind the well-wishes from Keane to his fellow Cork-born midfielder – namely that the Republic are monitoring the progress of the 25-year-old.
It may have come too late to secure a place in the country’s plans for Euro 2016, but a good performance tomorrow allied to taking Barnsley back to the Championship would provide a big nudge to Keane and manager Martin O’Neill ahead of World Cup qualifiers, which start in the autumn.
Hourihane said: “Roy Keane, being from Cork, rang me before the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final wishing me all the best. I know he’s keeping a close eye, so, hopefully, one day I will achieve that (international) dream.
“Getting to the Championship might set me in the right direction to achieve that. If we win on Sunday, you can call yourself a Championship player and that (international recognition) might come in due course.”
Hourihane admits that promotion would seal a sweet return journey, having failed to make a second-tier breakthrough earlier in his career at Ipswich.
It would also afford him his second joyous Wembley moment in the space of 57 days, although he is the first to acknowledge that tomorrow’s game assumes far more importance than April’s Trophy win. It is a game that can define careers, in his view.
Hourihane said: “I was at Ipswich for a year and they offered a few lads six-month deals. But Peter Reid came calling and offered me a chance to play first-team football at Plymouth, so I took a few steps back to go forward.
“If we can get the victory on Sunday, I will be back in the same league as Ipswich, which will be pleasing.”
He continued: “To play at Wembley and captain Barnsley to a victory was a special feeling and one I want to achieve again on Sunday. Hopefully, I will walk up those steps and feel that amazing feeling again of lifting a trophy.
“Of course, it is the biggest game in everyone’s career to date in the squad, I would imagine.
“A play-off final to get to the Championship can make or break careers. Hopefully, it will make a lot of our careers and set us in the right direction.”