The 31-year-old was a first-team regular for the Blades during the 2021/22 campaign, making 28 league appearances and recording one goal and four assists in the process.
Initially struggling to adapt to life at Bramall Lane with his performances underwhelming many under Slavisa Jokanovic, the Irishman managed to improve his performances but will be gutted to have missed a penalty in the play-off semi-final shootout against Nottingham Forest.
Quiz: Can you name which club Sheffield United sold these 23 players to from the last decade?
Despite this, he could potentially be open to a return to South Yorkshire in the coming months and will be able to join for free with his contract at Villa Park expiring in under two months.
In fact, the midfielder can open negotiations with any interested club from now as he looks to find a new permanent destination and Football League World understands West Bromwich Albion are one side that are monitoring his current situation.
The Baggies’ manager Steve Bruce worked with Hourihane at Villa, with the 61-year-old signing him from Barnsley at the start of 2017 and the former is interested in linking up with the 31-year-old again.
However, rival manager Heckingbottom will have discussions with the midfielder despite his deal at Bramall Lane coming to an end, although it’s currently unclear whether they will make a contract offer to him.
This would be a good addition for the Blades on a permanent basis with the wealth of second-tier experience he has – and is likely to thrive under Heckingbottom once more.
He may be 31 and is probably past the peak of his playing powers now – but won’t have the task of settling into a new club again if he joins the South Yorkshire side again and this is one factor that could put his former loan club at an advantage if they did want to recruit him.
However, Albion are local to Villa and if he wants to move back to the West Midlands, then Bruce’s side will undoubtedly be in pole position to land him. Like the Blades, the Baggies are also a big club so joining Bruce’s side may be a tempting prospect.
Comparing the two sides in terms of their trajectory, United will be favourites to get back to the Premier League next season if they can continue progressing under current boss Heckingbottom, with Albion needing major surgery if they are to get to the same position.
And at this stage, you would have to say the Blades are likely to finish above West Brom again next season, so it will be interesting to see whether that has an influence on the potential decision Hourihane may have to make. He may also want the guarantee of starting regularly.