Conor Hourihane closing in on a dream at Aston Villa
It has taken eight years, more than 300 appearances and an immeasurable amount of drive and determination for Conor Hourihane to reach this point.
Now the Villa midfielder stands just one game away from realising his Premier League ambition.
Hourihane has been tantalisingly close to the top flight before. But after coming through the ranks at Sunderland, he never made a first-team appearance before leaving the Stadium of Light in 2010.
That began a journey which took him near the very foot of the professional game before heading back toward the summit.
The dream is now within touching distance and Hourihane is determined not to lose focus.
“It is close... it’s very close,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about for a long time, it’s been long hard road but I won’t get too excited.
“There’s still 90 minutes to go. Maybe even 120 minutes and penalties. So, there’s still a little bit to go until I get to the Premier League. Hopefully the hard work will pay off eventually.”
Released by Ipswich after failing to make an appearances in 2010-11 season, Hourihane joined a Plymouth Argyle team struggling at the bottom of League Two.
The experience – which included several weeks in which the squad was not paid – would have broken many players.
Yet it was the making of Hourihane, who after three years on the south coast went on to join Barnsley, captaining the Tykes to promotion through the League One play-offs two years ago.
That experience, he hopes, will now pay-off when Villa take on Fulham at Wembley on Saturday week.
“This is probably one of the biggest campaigns I’ve been involved in,” he said.
“Having that experience of play-offs with Barnsley, I knew what was coming (in the play-offs), and I know what is coming in the final as well so that might give me an edge.”
Hourihane, who joined Villa from Barnsley in January last year, has enjoyed a fine first full season at the club.
The 27-year-old has found the net 11 times, becoming the first Villa central midfielder since David Platt to hit double figures in a league campaign.
He pointed to the advice from experienced heads, like John Terry and Mile Jedinak, as being key to his success.
“You learn so much off them and if you don’t then you’re a silly, silly man,” said Hourhane. “If you can’t learn something off those lads, you won’t learn off anyone. To have the opportunity to work with these lads has been fantastic for myself.
“It’s brought another string to my bow, and it’s fantastic.
“I feel like I’m starting to make my own way here, helping the team out in a lot of ways. I’m pleased with what I’m doing.
“I’ve probably done it the harder way to a lot of lads in that dressing room, I’ve come from the lower leagues all the way up.
“A lot of the lads have been in the Premier League and been at a high level. We’ve met in the middle here so hopefully the hard work will pay off with one more game at Wembley.”