Conor Hourihane knows the euphoria of victory in play-offs and the numbness of defeat.
At 30 and with two promotions on his resume, Hourihane is better positioned than most to say what is needed if Swansea City are to return to the Premier League this month.
The key to success in the play-off?
âYou need a bit of everything,â Hourihane says.
âYou need things to move forward for you. You need to be performing. You need everyone to play their part – the keeper needs to make some good saves, the defense needs to be strong and your attackers need to be in good shape.
âYou also need a calm head. And you need a little luck, that’s for sure.
Hourihane, who is on loan to Swansea from Aston Villa, speaks from experience.
The midfielder first tasted play-offs in Ligue 1 in 2015-16 with Barnsley, who beat Walsall in the semi-finals before beating Millwall 3-1 at Wembley.
In 2017-18, Hourihane was part of the Villa squad who, after defeating Middlesbrough in the semi-finals, lost the Championship play-off final to Fulham at Wembley.
Twelve months later, they were back.
In the season where a cabbage was thrown at Steve Bruce – he was sacked the next day – Dean Smith led his rejuvenated Villa side to semi-final victory over West Bromwich Albion, when Hourihane scored a brilliant goal in the game go then scored again in the penalty shootout that settled the tie.
At Wembley, goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn saw Villa beat Frank Lampard’s Derby County 2-1.
“Play-offs are a tense business, fantastic opportunities when they are going for you but extremely, extremely disappointing when they are not going for you,” Hourihane told BBC Sport Wales.
“These are amazing games to play. When they play you, there is no feeling.”
Barnsley’s success in 2016 came at the end of a spectacular race, which saw them climb off the table in December to win promotion as well as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
In 2018, Fulham’s form had been most impressive before the play-offs and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side duly reached the Premier League.
Villa’s triumph over Derby came after their own sparkling run, with 10 straight wins in March and April, sending their season into overtime.
âIn the campaigns I have participated in, I have the feeling that the team that starts with momentum starts with confidence,â says Hourihane.
“Our form has definitely recovered – we feel in good shape. We got there. [secured a play-off place] at Reading the guys did well against Derby and if we can get another result at Watford we would feel like we are on the right track to get there. “
Villa is now thriving in the Premier League after recovering from the pain of the failed play-offs to promote the following season.
After last season’s play-off semi-final loss to Brentford, Swansea’s challenge is to emulate Hourihane’s parent club.
Barring a streak of remarkable results on Saturday, the final day of the regular season, Swansea knows they won’t face the Bees in the semifinals this year.
Rather, it will be Barnsley, where Hourihane played more than 130 games before moving to Villa in 2017, or Bournemouth, the club he could have joined in January but opted for Swansea instead.
Bookies are making Brentford favorites to celebrate at Wembley on May 31, with Bournemouth next in betting ahead of Barnsley, with Swansea the underdogs thanks to their inconsistent end-of-season form.
Hourihane, who has been around this block several times, avoids play-off predictions.
“Bournemouth had a fantastic run, although it fell slightly with a few losses I guess,” he said.
“I think Brentford is in good shape again and Barnsley can score a result at any time. I feel like there isn’t a single team coming into the race as hot favorites.”
Republic of Ireland international Hourihane describes himself as ‘quietly satisfied’ with his form at Swansea, where he scored five times in 20 appearances after struggling for the Premier League game at Villa in the first half of the season .
He has played 31 times for Villa in the top flight over the past two seasons and the goal for a player who rose through the ranks after joining Plymouth Argyle ten years ago is to return to the top level.
As it stands, he will return to Villa Park, where he has one year left on his contract, at the end of Swansea’s season.
“It’s a goal I would like to achieve before I retire, to play in the Premier League,” he said.
“I probably won’t have too much of a chance to try to achieve this. I hope it can be with Swansea, if we are successful in the play-offs campaign.”