Family affair for Gleeson as he seeks to follow Whelan
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
Stephen Gleeson was capped for Ireland before his first cousin Glenn Whelan but he landed in Dublin this week conscious that he has a serious amount of catching up to do.
Gleeson won two caps as an 'overawed' teenager as part of a makeshift squad that Steve Staunton brought to America in 2007. He was then on the books of Wolves and failed to build on that experience.
A year later, Whelan was called in by new boss Giovanni Trapattoni and became a mainstay of the side. He now has 70 caps and is guaranteed to travel to France this summer.
Gleeson, 27, who is four-and-a-half years younger than Whelan, is realistic enough to accept that his invite into the Ireland squad for the games with Switzerland and Slovakia could prove to be of more relevance to the next World Cup campaign.
Still, the Birmingham midfielder is determined to make the most of his second chance in this sphere, even if it means a few physical challenges on a family member in training.
"This is the first time we've ever been on the same pitch together. If I can get near him I'll hopefully leave one on him," he grinned.
"My dad and his dad are brothers. We grew up together. It's always been a dream of both families (for the duo) to get out together. He's done brilliant over the last few years and he's well established. I'm coming in here and if he can give me any pointers then great but I'm looking to get on as well."
As it happens, the story of Whelan's old midfield ally Keith Andrews could actually be of more inspiration to Gleeson.
Andrews also dropped down the leagues after a release from Wolves before climbing up the ladder again via MK Dons to get his chance. Gleeson joined Birmingham after a good stint in League One with MK Dons and is now comfortable in the Championship.
"We've probably taken a bit of the same career path," says Gleeson.
"It felt like I'd just gone off the map. I always thought I could get back here and over the last 18 months to two years I've been playing really well. I have that confidence back in my game where I believe I can keep getting into the squad. It's been a long, long time but I never gave up that fight.
"I knew if I could do my stuff in the Championship it would give me a good chance. Thankfully it has come around again. I played over 40 games last year and then this year I've done the same.
"I know this summer is a long shot for me, but just to come into the squad now is great."