Underappreciated Glenn Whelan set for final act

Midfielder had fair share of criticism over the years but committment never questioned

Glenn Whelan during Ireland training ahead of the friendly international against Northern Ireland. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Glenn Whelan during Ireland training ahead of the friendly international against Northern Ireland. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

A decade after Giovanni Trapattoni handed him his debut, Glenn Whelan departs the international stage tonight full of gratitude, he says, for the opportunity he has had to play so many times for his country and with only one real regret: that the time passed so quickly.

“Every time I’ve come in, I’ve tried to make the most of it,” he said at yesterday’s pre-match press conference. “I was saying to the manager about how much more appreciative you are of your time after not being here for the last 12 months. You miss out on that time with the lads but I’ve loved every time that I’ve played and really appreciate being able to come in for the game on Thursday.”

He has not, he insists, retired nor will he but neither does he resent the fact that the manager is essentially doing it for him. “It’s never something I’ll do. I never picked when to come and play for Ireland and I’ll never pick when not to play. The manager has been trying to bed new players in and I’m more than happy with that but he knows if anything ever happens, I will be available.”

It was a rare appearance in front of the press by Whelan who, long before O’Neill stopped bringing him in on a regular basis, had stopped doing media. The now 34-year-old was upset by the tone of the criticism levelled at him and, more specifically, by the way in which Eamon Dunphy seemed to persistently single him out.

In 2013, he hit back, describing the RTÉ pundit as “a bully”, comparing their respective career records and achievements at length and inviting the former Millwall player to come and speak to him face-to-face.

The story goes that he felt the rest of the press should have come out and defended him. He had previously been accessible and friendly but when it didn’t happen he stopped talking and says now that he simply wanted to “step away”.

“I moved away to play football when I was 15 and everybody loves the limelight when they are raving about you but there’s definitely another side to it. It’s part and parcel of the job and I understand that but I thought there was certain stuff that got a little bit personal.

“My background was brought up and there was a thing written about a car (a Ferrari) I was driving and I definitely didn’t drive that car. I’m a footballer but I think I’m a normal person away from the pitch.

“I’ve got two kids and there’s stuff online now. So just from a personal point of view, I decided to step away from it and let everyone else speak.

“When I came in I only wanted to impress the manager, Roy and my team mates. That side of things didn’t worry me.”

His style of play certainly made him a regular target for those looking to criticise the side, especially under Giovanni Trapattoni but his statistics tended to support the faith shown him in by his managers both at club and international level.

O’Neill, who eventually dropped him on the basis that he was past his best, said he had been underappreciated. There will be those who still disagree but nobody could question his commitment to the cause and that does have a certain, old fashioned appeal about it just now.

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