Stephen Hunt: If the manager tells you to get on with it, you forget fatigue
We had played Macedonia and won on the Saturday. We had a friendly against Italy three days later. My Achilles was sore and I felt the best thing to do was skip the game. I’d missed a few months with my club that year and now I could rest and get myself ready for pre-season. Giovanni Trapattoni had other ideas. He often had other ideas.
When word reached him that I was thinking of skipping the game, he came to see me. His message was simple: “You must play.” For Trap, there were no backward steps in international football. This might have been a friendly, but it was against Italy and he wanted players available, so I played.
I thought about that conversation when Martin O’Neill said Wes Hoolahan came to him last Sunday and told him he wasn’t ready to start against Poland.
How would that conversation have gone with Trap? Well, the glib answer is that it wouldn’t have taken place because he overlooked Wes during his time in charge, but I can’t see him leaving it to the player, especially as he was fit to come on.
Maybe O’Neill stressed how much he was needed and it made no difference, but one of the things Ireland’s manager has going for him is said to be his man-management, so I’d like to think that someone of his experience would be able to emphasise how much of a difference Hoolahan could make.
My Achilles was aching that day, but it went with the adrenaline of the game. I think Wes should have been going to the manager and demanding to play, especially after all the games he has missed through no fault of his own.
Last Sunday’s game was a great opportunity and Ireland’s chances would have increased greatly with him on the pitch. We might get a good draw this morning and then it won’t seem as important, but the match in Poland was one to win and the team selection didn’t help us.
Wes may have felt he wasn’t ready, but I have been in that situation and if a manager tells you that you can overcome it, that your body is tired now but once the game begins, once the opportunity to win a game that will take your country to the European Championships is there, you forget about it.
I’ve felt like that before games, but soon it disappears and you actually get a boost because you realise how smart it was to play, you’re out there like a pig in Chardonnay, as Stephen Fry said when he got to commentate alongside Sid Waddell.
I hope that when Wes went to Martin, it didn’t confirm any worries he had about the player. The day before the match, O’Neill said Wes had ability and possessed great enthusiasm for the game, but added, “he might not be suited to everybody”, when wondering why he hadn’t played at the highest level for longer.
There is a school of thought in England that Wes lacks the physical strengths needed to play week in, week out at the highest level, but he has demolished that idea in international football over the past few months. There will be some who feel that view is confirmed because of Wes saying he wasn’t fit to start last week, but he has become such an important player for Ireland that we had to find a way to get him on the pitch.
Without Wes, we lacked creativity, but it wasn’t the only thing the manager got wrong. I couldn’t believe he left Stephen Ward behind. He’d played against Germany and come off with cramp, which was understandable as he’d only played one game since August. But I know what Ward is like and he’d have been buzzing and he would have been fine for the game on Sunday. Leaving him out also meant moving Robbie Brady out of midfield and the unit which had worked so well against Germany was broken up.
I think Ireland can still get through a play-off and I believe Shane Long will be fit, but it will be tough, as tough, if not tougher, than winning in Warsaw. Last week was the time to make big decisions. I still think Ireland can qualify, but I hope the manager is ruthless enough to make it happen.
Sunday Indo Sport