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'It was like starting all over again'

DESPITE BEING one of the oldest players in the Ireland set-up for last Wednesday's friendly against Greece in Dublin, Wes Hoolahan was like a fresh-faced kid when it came to the nitty-gritty of the international game.

Bear in mind that we still had a functioning economy and property market (just about) when Hoolahan won his last senior cap, so it's no wonder that there was a bit of confusion when it came to a renewal of his international hopes this week.

"When I got the call to say I was coming in on the Saturday, I didn't know what to do, it's been so long since I was involved with any of the international teams," Hoolahan reflected when he spoke to the Evening Herald after arriving back home at his Norfolk base last night.

"I didn't know if I had to go to the hotel or just show up for training, it was a bit like starting off all over again, it was a bit weird as I had forgotten what it was like, being with the Irish teams.

"It was easy enough to settle in, even though I have been out of the picture for a while as I knew a lot of the lads already.

"I had been with a lot of these lads in Portugal for that training camp under the manager back in 2008 and I'd played against the likes of David Forde, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward in the League of Ireland.

"It was really good to see so many ex-League of Ireland lads in the squad, so I was able to get used to things quickly," added the Dubliner, who won nine U21 caps between 2002 and 2003 and was also involved (briefly) with the senior team for a friendly away to Greece in 2002, but then had to wait until a B international in chilly Airdrie in 2007 for his next taste of the international scene.


The hope of everyone who paid in to Lansdowne Road on Wednesday night is that Hoolahan is not now sent back into cold storage but is instead given another chance, at least in the friendly against Poland in February.

His team-mates were full of praise for his display against the Greeks with positive words from men like Simon Cox ("Wes has come back into the frame and I think he played very well") and Stephen Ward ("It was great to see Weso come in and give us a different dimension in the second half").

Giovanni Trapattoni, as is his custom, didn't say much to his charges after the game but Hoolahan still came away with the impression that, having come on as a half-time sub for fellow northsider Robbie Brady, he had put in a good night's work.

"I didn't get any indication from the manager after, he just said well done as he did to most of the players. And I didn't really speak to the other players about our own individual games after, we just got on with the job during the game and after there wasn't much time to look back on the night. I think we were thinking about the weekend matches already," Hoolahan says.

"I was happy with how the night went for me and it was a decent enough night for the team. We played okay, created a few half-chances and had a lot of possession.

"I got a bit of time on the ball, I got a few touches and linked the play well with Keith Andrews and Kevin Doyle, so that was pleasing for me.

"It was a bit like the role I play with Norwich; this year I mainly play off Grant Holt and that suits me. Last year I played in a diamond with two strikers.

"We had more half-chances than anything else. Friendly games are always hard, you never know what to expect in a friendly until the game starts and Greece showed last night that they were a very good side.

"We could have had a couple of penalties, Shane Long was taken down and there was a clear handball in the box in the first half, so while it wasn't nice to lose the game I think we had a lot of good things come out of it. And I would hope to be back again," says Hoolahan, hopeful that his age (30) will not count against him.

"Age is only a number, it doesn't bother me, I feel as fit as I ever did right now and to me, age doesn't come into it."


Due to the rigours of Wednesday night, Hoolahan didn't train with his Norwich team-mates yesterday and only rejoined the squad this morning as the Canaries prepare for tomorrow's Premier League clash with Manchester United, so he didn't get the opportunity of a debrief from manager Chris Hughton.

"I didn't get to see Chris yesterday," he says.

"When I got back to the club from Dublin I just popped in for a massage and a bit of treatment. I just got a text from the manager after the game on Wednesday night saying 'well done'," added Hoolahan.

More texts like that, from the Ireland manager, in the coming weeks and life will be a lot warmer for Wes Hoolahan and the Irish fans who want to see a player, who would probably have 50-odd senior caps by now if he came from a continental Europe country, in the green shirt again.