Wednesday 28 September 2016

Scottish test part of Hoolahan effort to make up for lost time in green

Having been disappointed to miss Glasgow tie, Dubliner is in good heart again after return to Premier League

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

Having been disappointed to miss Glasgow tie, Wes Hoolahan is in good heart again after return to Premier League
Having been disappointed to miss Glasgow tie, Wes Hoolahan is in good heart again after return to Premier League

Wes Hoolahan was a frustrated spectator on his couch for Ireland's November defeat to Scotland and believes that a cleaner bill of health for the return meeting could swing the balance in favour of Saturday's hosts.

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Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy and Marc Wilson also missed that disappointing night at Celtic Park because of fitness issues but they are all present and correct for the Dublin leg with Martin O'Neill faring well in terms of attendance for the vital end-of-season encounter.

Hoolahan was late meeting up with the squad due to a problem with the back of his knee and he was also given time to attend the funeral of his grandmother.

Those factors meant he didn't get on the pitch in Sunday's draw with England, although he was primed for a late entrance as a sub until John O'Shea's calf setback necessitated a defensive switch.

Still, he has arrived in good form from a football perspective after playing a key role in Norwich's play-off triumph at Wembley to book another tilt at the Premier League.

Before heading into the summer, he wants to silence his Scottish colleagues Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker who revelled in the aftermath of Shaun Maloney's strike in Glasgow.

"There is a massive difference between now and six months ago," asserts Hoolahan. "I watched it at home and we were a bit unlucky. It looked like it was heading for a draw which would have been a good result and then they scored from the set-piece.

"Most of our players are back fit and to have the likes of James and Whelo who play week in, week out in the Premier League back available can only be good for us. It's massively important. We're at home and we need to take it to them to win the game, go above them in the table and put ourselves in a strong position."

It was the influence of a young Scottish boss, Alex Neil, that turned Norwich's fortunes around in a season that appeared to be slipping away from them. He is less than a year older than Hoolahan, having turned 34 yesterday, and his 'no messing' attitude has worked with the Canaries.

Hoolahan thinks there is plenty of energy left in his legs after a protracted road to the top flight, yet he confesses that the worst-case scenario crossed his mind before the decisive clash with Middlesbrough at the home of English football.

"I wouldn't say I'm getting on," he asserts. "But I'm 33 so you are thinking, 'Maybe this is my last chance to get back into the Premier League' so I gave it my all to get back there and give it another shot.

"I wish I could have got to the Premier League sooner than I did," continues the ex-Shels man, who made his debut in that company as a 29-year-old in 2011 following a roundabout route to the top. "But there's no point looking back on that and regretting it. I was lucky to get the opportunity to play there for a couple of seasons. We got relegation but we won promotion at the first attempt so next season is something to look forward to. You just want to make the most of it when it does come around."

Much as he is keen to avoid the veteran tag, Hoolahan accepts that a Premier League itinerary is better for a player with his attributes at this stage of his journey. It suits his style too.

"You get more time on the ball," he continues. "Teams will allow you to have the ball up to a certain point on the pitch. The Championship is a tough league, it's very physically demanding. You have four games every two weeks whereas in the Premier League you're playing once a week apart from around Christmas.

"So it probably does suit me better and it's the best league in the world so you want to be playing on that sort of stage."

O'Neill has trusted Hoolahan on the Aviva stage, unlike his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, and he impressed in March's draw with Poland. This is his opportunity to belatedly cement his place in the Irish side; Scotland will be the occasion of his 18th cap.

"The gaffer has shown a lot of faith in me since he has come in," he enthuses. "I have started a lot of home games which is encouraging and hopefully I can do my best and show why he's put his trust in me."

Irish Independent

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