Conor Hourihane is refusing to accept that he is a Republic of Ireland regular as he attempts to cement his place for the crucial Euro 2020 qualifier double-header against Georgia and Switzerland.
The 28-year-old Aston Villa midfielder has started all five competitive games of manager Mick McCarthy’s reign to date, one of nine men to have done so, but having suffered disappointments earlier in his career, is in no mood to take anything for granted.
Sitting alongside Preston counterpart Alan Browne, who impressed in last month’s friendly victory over Bulgaria, Hourihane was asked what it meant to him to be one of the first names on McCarthy’s teamsheet.
He said: “That’s definitely not my mindset, that’s for sure. I don’t see myself as one of the first names on the teamsheet. If you become complacent, that’s when someone pushes you out of the way.
“People like Browney did fantastically in the game against Bulgaria and he’ll be pushing me for my place, so I know I need to be on top of my game to be on the teamsheet come Saturday.
“I’ll be working this week like I’m fighting for my place, like it’s one of my first caps, and hopefully be selected for the weekend.”
Hourihane’s caution is founded on his experiences during a career to date which has seen him released as a teenager by Sunderland and then Ipswich a year later before rebooting in League Two with Plymouth.
A two-and-a-half-year spell at Barnsley won him his move to Villa, for whom he scored in a 5-1 Premier League win at Norwich on Saturday to confirm his return.
It has been a long and arduous road and for that reason, even his key role in McCarthy’s qualification blueprint will not deflect him from his mission to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
He said: “When I dropped down to League Two, I always had that self-confidence and self-belief that I would come back up.
“I worked so hard, even on my days off, working hard, sacrificing everything to make it happen.
“Yes, it was great at the weekend and it shows hard work does pay off with those kinds of moments, but it is one I won’t be resting on. I’m never satisfied with my game, I’m always my worst critic.
“I’m working on my game this week again to try to improve. Maybe later on in my career, or when I’m finished, I’ll look back on it with great pride, but now is not the time to look back on it, it’s time to kick on again.”
Hourihane’s goal at Carrow Road means he has now scored in all of England’s top four divisions, but that too is something he intends to improve upon, particularly at international level, where his winner against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium in March represents his total haul.
That said, Ireland would be happy whoever scored in Tbilisi on Saturday if it meant another three points towards Group D qualification having found the going tough on their last two visits despite emerging with four points from a possible six.
The midfielder said: “The last time we went there I was on the bench when [Shane] Duffy scored the goal, and that was an extremely tough night.
“Before, I was in the squad when we needed two great goals from Aiden McGeady to get a result out there. Denmark are a very good side, so if Georgia held them at 0-0, it shows what a good side they are.”
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