Thursday 29 September 2016

Warrior Whelan shuts the door to avoid Pjanic attack

Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30

GLENN Whelan has 69 caps for his country and still under-appreciated and easily criticised in some quarters, but was entrusted with the captaincy by Ireland manager Martin O'Neill for last night's winner takes all showdown against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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Clearly, Whelan is doing something right, even if he's not everyone's favourite.

Media commentators, including Eamon Dunphy, have also slated him.

Dunphy called him a 'terrible' player who was lucky to have won 50 caps.

Richard Sadlier, ex-Millwall and now a respected and insightful Sunday Independent columnist, said: "I think he fits into the category where players appreciate him more when they play alongside him, and I've heard some of his team-mates say that, but his distribution can be frustrating."

Kevin Kilbane and Steven Reid believe he is under-rated and much maligned. Whelan can polarise opinion.

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It's easy to see why. From the beginning of his career under Giovanni Trapattoni, Whelan's job was to dig in and anchor midfield.

Trap put the handcuffs on his middle men in typically Italian conservative fashion. The manager nevertheless trusted Whelan to do the job as required.

If that meant shuttling sideways rather than forwards, but so be it.

What cannot be denied is that Whelan is the epitome of a solid professional, one who plays to his strengths and his limitations.

He's brave, a good reader of the game, solid in the tackle. Not the quickest, but a good organiser in the heat of battle.

His passing is better than is generally acknowledged and what must not be forgotten is that he has carved out a very good career in the Premier League with Stoke City for the last seven years.

Last night he must have been a proud Dubliner leading the national team out on such an important occasion.

Once the game started he stationed himself ahead of central defenders Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark. He had plenty of space as the Bosnians stayed compact and the Irish pushed on in the early stages.

Whelan was all calm and concentration. A little intercepted pass here, a timely tackle there.

Closing down opposition's No 10 Miralem Pjanic on the Irish right flank, and forcing him to pass the ball 20 yards backwards.

Clearing a corner, sneaking up far post only for the ball to be cleared for a corner by a Bosnian defender. Keeping the engine ticking over.

You don't win man of the match ratings by doing that, but structure, shape, and survival against quality international opposition require these fundamental jobs to be done.

There were long periods where Whelan had space as Pjanic went deep and wide seeking possession.

Then the Roma midfielder would drift forward, seeking that dangerous space in front of our central defenders and behind Whelan and McCarthy. For the most part, Whelan denied him access to our front door.

Shortly before half time two little quick and accurate passes around the opposition penalty area showed the positive side of Whelan, and a long raking clearance to tidy up ended a very good first-half contribution from the skipper.

As Bosnia pressed forward in the second half, Senad Lulic came into Whelan's area and looked a threat.

He, too, got little change from the Whelan-McCarthy axis.

Jon Walters' second goal had the fans ecstatic but there was still a job to be done.

Whelan snapped into a tackle on Lulic that halted a Bosnian threat just after the goal, another small moment en route to a glory night.

Irish Independent

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