Conor Hourihane showed '˜bit of class' in Barnsley exit - Heckingbottom

Conor Hourihane scored against Leeds United in his final appearance for BarnsleyConor Hourihane scored against Leeds United in his final appearance for Barnsley
Conor Hourihane scored against Leeds United in his final appearance for Barnsley
ON A weekend when Barnsley celebrate their 130th anniversary, it is somewhat apt that one of their most talismanic figures in recent times should make his first playing return to Oakwell.

Fondly-remembered former Reds players from over the years will be introduced to the crowd ahead of the televised tea-time fixture with Aston Villa as the club commemorates its milestone – and another will also be involved for tomorrow’s visitors in the shape of feted ex-captain Conor Hourihane.

Paul Heckingbottom will know full well that the midfielder – being the consummate professional that he is – will be purely focused on business in claret-and-blue on Saturday afternoon as he strives to do his level best to ensure that troubled Villa relieve the strain on under-pressure manager Steve Bruce.

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Heckingbottom – and Oakwell supporters too – probably would not expect anything different, but the Reds head coach is also sure upon another thing.

Namely that Hourihane, held such in high esteem during his time at the club, will he afforded the warmest of ovations on his return to the ground which he recently graced, with another returning player in James Bree also likely to receive a fond ‘welcome home’ too.

Hourihane’s exit from Oakwell was the very embodiment of class, with a quite wonderful match-winning free-kick in his final Reds outing against Leeds back in January being the precursor to a gracious message of thanks to supporters after completing his move to the Midlands.

As exits go, it was stylish, elegant and fitting – and it ensured him a positive legacy, according to his former head coach.

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Heckingbottom said: “What Conor did really well here was that he left with a bit of class and in style and signed off with a goal and things like that.

“That is what people remember him for.

“He was here at the game on the other night, so I had a quick catch-up with him. Conor is a very grounded, humble lad and he knows what Barnsley have done for him.

“He knows that the club played a big part in his career so far and he had some good times here, so the feeling will be both ways.”

Just as Hourihane exuded dignity and respect during his time at the club, so a further reminder of those reverential qualities in an individual have also arrived this week, albeit in somewhat sad circumstances.

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It came via a letter in the club’s match programme from Patrick Cryne, who penned a heartfelt message to supporters, which felt very much like a goodbye – with the Reds owner providing an update on his condition after being diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

His very human qualities resonated not just with followers of Barnsley, but countless other football supporters across the land too.

Despite his grave condition, Cryne’s passion for his club is still very evident and after his side’s cup triumph over Derby on Tuesday, Heckingbottom is hoping that the Reds can provide another touch of further solace for him.

He said: “I am pleased Patrick came out and spoke. Everyone wants to hear from him, but obviously with everything that he is going through, he has been really private about it.

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“I have obviously spoken to him about it, checking how he is and it puts things in perspective. Every phone call previously was (about) football or Barnsley. But now we have got bigger things to talk about.

“Even then, we (only) have the odd conversation about it. He just puts it to one side and it is about the football.

“I think it is nice for everybody to hear from him and it was nice for Patrick to come out and speak to everybody. He did not have to do it, but decided to.

“With everything that is going on off and on the pitch, he can put things into perspective with words like that.

“Hopefully we can win again for him (on Saturday).”

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While Barnsley fans will recall a revered player from their recent past in Hourihane tomorrow, one current messianic figure still very much showcasing the red shirt with style and elan in Adam Hammill will endeavour to orchestrate another famous Oakwell result tomorrow.

Hammill, who similarly displayed class in firing a dramatic winner in midweek and then dedicating the win to the stricken Cryne, has very much proved the Reds’ talisman of late and his upturn after an inauspicious start to the season have been duly noted by Heckingbottom.

Back at the club he calls home, Hammill is in the second year of his deal at Oakwell, with Heckingbottom revealing that the Reds have an option to extend it by 12 months.

It is a situation that the club remain comfortable with, according to Heckingbottom.

He said: “He was left out in the first game and deservedly so.

“But since then, he has played his way in to become one of our most important players. And that is what we want from him.”