Sunday 21 October 2018

Swords ace Whelan turns full circle...

PAUL WHELAN, Back left, in his Rovers days.
PAUL WHELAN, Back left, in his Rovers days.
a great influence on his career, top Irish goalscorer in his day, his late father, Ronnie snr.
PAUL WHELAN, contemplating a last season in the League of Ireland after 18 years and perhaps a future career in management
RONNIE WHELAN SNR pictured back left (in shirt) in his Drogheda days in the late 60’s, 70’s.

The Whelan name is a famed one in Irish soccer. For decades a certain Ronnie Whelan senior graced the national scene with a goalscoring touch that was the envy of all. Testimony of his skills is the fact that he was capped twice for his country when still a part time player.

The Whelan name is a famed one in Irish soccer. For decades a certain Ronnie Whelan senior graced the national scene with a goalscoring touch that was the envy of all. Testimony of his skills is the fact that he was capped twice for his country when still a part time player.

There followed Ronnie Whelan junior. Another class act with 44 appearences for Ireland and every title possible with Liverpool from league championships to European Cups.

Then there’s Paul Whelan. Four years Ronnie’s junior, he has tasted success of a different nature. The success of a League of Ireland career that has spanned 18 years. He has encountered his fair share of bad luck - missing out on a treasured league medal on goal difference - but claiming the prize of FAI Cup glory in 1992 when at 27 he captained Bohs to the title.

Now his two sons are keen to follow in the family tradition, Daniel (13) and Gavin, playing at 17 Premier level in Dublin, both members of Home Farm and both ‘coming along nicely’ as dad would say.

As for dad, he’s contemplating ending his glowing career when the final whistle sounds in April/ May 2001. And in many ways he has turned full circle, returning to Home Farm this season, the club where it all began 18 years ago on his League of Ireland debut.

Working in the Postal Department at Dublin Airport, the Rivervalley, Swords man, now 35, has seen it all when it comes to football in this country and abroad and looking at his sons, wants them to complete their education before any talk of overseas travel.

‘Naturally every kid dreams of going away to a top club but I’ve seen too many come back and become totally disillusioned. Its a thing that can totally change a young fellow,’ he states.

‘Gavin is doing his Leaving Certificate next year and we’ll see after that. Its vital for any young lad to complete his education here before going to England as in most cases it simply does not work out when they go at a young age.’

Whelan’s return to the Farm comes after a year with Dundalk. He enjoyed his term there under Terry Eviston but with the manager’s departure after a failed battle with Kilkenny to gain promotion, a short letter in the post to the Whelan home ended Paul’s interest there too.

‘These things happen and you wouldn’t want to worry about the way people end your contract at a club. Dundalk is a sleeping giant with all the facilities you need. I could only imagine what Shamrock Rovers would be like if they had such a set up.’

Following his free transfer, Whelan realised he needed to keep up his training and popped along to the Farm where his two sons also train three times a week. ‘John (McDonnell) asked would I be interested in signing so I did,’ he states. “I see it as very much pay back time. Farm gave me and the family a good start in the game and I”ve never forgotten that. They’ve treated us all very well over the years.’

When he does hang up the boots, he feels the call of management could beckon, having picked up quite a few tips along the way from various sources.

His late dad Ronnie was the man who started it all. ‘My dad always said to me play as long as you can because nothing beats playing,’ he states. His father’s influence has been tremendous on Paul. Relating his memories of his dad in a Rovers programme in January 1998 (the year he was club captain), probably eptimises the character of Paul himself.

‘My memories are what I would like my own children’s memories to be of me, watching my dad play, him bringing me to games and so on. He was a hero to myself and Ronnie, we looked up to him, its just like everybody’s da, I suppose.’

‘He would take us out to the back of our house or up to a field and he would show us how to do tricks on the ball. More often than not I was out in goal and Ronnie was taking the shots, I was the ballboy.’

Ronnie Whelan snr died from cancer in 1993 at the age of just 57 years. ‘I remember him for the man he was, for the strength he had, the guidance which he gave me and Ronnie. I think where cancer is involved only people who have had it can fully realise how bad it can be.’

Ronnie Whelan certainly came from an era of greats. Another Farm kid, he played League of Ireland football from 1956 to 1973, scoring 109 goals, the majority for St.Pats, putting him in the all time top 20 goalscoring list.

Others have influenced Whelan, his brother Robbie (remember that strike against Russia in 1988 !) while he has had many mangers and playing colleagues too. ‘I expect I’ve picked up some hints on management along the way,’ he muses.

But like young players going overseas, he knows the pitfalls in management too. ‘Some of the lads who have managed in the league in recent years are now managing in the Leinster League so its not that easy to be a success.’

And the standards are rising all the time with, Paul feels, Shels and Bohs benefiting greatly from their professional approach.

‘If they can sustain professionalism at the club then they’ll leave the rest behind. No-one can touch them with wages and therefore they demand the best players.’

For the moment he’s content to pass on a few tips to the youngsters in the Home Farm set up and try to further their image in Fingal. ‘The club wants to generate a Fingal base of support but of course they’ll need to get the results going and play the type of football that attracts the crowds every week. The facilities, pitch and ground are very good and the attitude towards the players is terrific and very professional.’

Made his League of Ireland debut in 1982 with Home Farm side

Name: Paul Whelan.

Born: Finglas, May 10, 1965.

Home: Rivervalley, Swords.

Work: Dublin Airport.

Career: Began as a 7 year old at Home Farm and played with them until he was 18, making his League of Ireland debut in 1982. He then has a spell with Drogheda and Derry before he hit the 22/23 mark and things really took off.

He had five years with Bohemians and then five at Shamrock Rovers where he was club captain. He then had a season with Dundalk and has now returned to Home Farm.

Honours: Captained Bohemians to the FAI Cup in 1992 on his 27th birthday. Has also collected League Cup and Leinster Cup medals.

European Matches: Vanespore, Turkey. Brought them to extra time in Tolka before losing out. There was also Gornick from Poland when with Rovers. ‘We got a real lesson in the first leg, losing 7-0 but held them 0-0 at home.’

Bordeaux and Stauea Bucharest provided Bohs with good competition also, drawing 0-0 with Bucharest in Dublin before travelling over there. Joe Lawless came agonisingly close to a lead goal but they lost out 4-0 in the finish.

Best player: ‘Pat Fenlon is probably the most professional player I’ve seen in the league. As a defensive partner myself and Robbie Best had it all sown up with Bohs while Gino Brazil at Rovers was another great colleague.’

Best Manager: ‘It has to be Ray Treacy. It had it all and really needed to be on a higher stage to be appreciated fully. He was well advanced in his thinking and always urged players to get it down and play it.’