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Hourihane returns to Barnsley after Derby exit

Conor Hourihane in action for Derby County
Conor Hourihane scored six times as Derby finished runners-up to Portsmouth in League One [Getty Images]

Conor Hourihane has returned to Barnsley on a player-coach deal following his exit from Derby County.

The 33-year-old Republic of Ireland international, twice a Wembley winner with the Tykes in 2016, left to join Aston Villa in January 2017, helping them win promotion back to the top flight.

He then had a half season loan at Swansea before a full season on loan to Sheffield United, where the Blades lost in the Championship play-off semi-finals.

But he then joined Derby in 2022, captaining the Rams to promotion, while also working as an academy coach at Aston Villa - another of his former clubs.

Hourihane will spend an initial two years as a first-team coach alongside new boss Darrell Clarke and last season's interim boss Martin Devaney before "assuming full-time first-team coach responsibilities in two years’ time".

"I will still play a little bit next season for sure," Hourihane had told BBC Radio Derby prior to his return to Oakwell.

"But it will be a bit of a hybrid role where I can start making the transition on top of playing,

"I have a real hunger and desire to help people and to become a coach and a top coach or manager, whatever it may be.

"Whether that is a success, who knows? But there will be a big work ethic to try achieve that."

New Barnsley head coach Clarke said: “Having Conor’s experience around the building is going to be vitally important.

"With over 600 games under his belt at every level including the Premier League and internationally with Ireland, there is nothing that Conor has not seen in the game.

"This will make him a top coach and someone our young squad can look to for guidance. The fact that he is also still going to be a player I can call upon makes this deal even sweeter."

Barnsley finished sixth in League One, 16 points behind second-placed Derby, before narrowly losing 5-4 over two legs to Bolton Wanderers in the play-off semis

County Cork-born Hourihane had previously spoken about how he is "no longer scared" of retiring as a player after moving into coaching in recent years.

"I'm delighted with what I've done in my playing career," he said. "Hopefully I can get a little bit of success in the next chapter too."