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Whelan: It's do or die

A TIME for words and then a time for deeds.

Just before kick-off in the Le Coq Arena here in Tallinn tonight, the 11 Irish players selected by Giovanni Trapattoni will stand for the national anthem.

They'll adopt their idiosyncratic poses -- Robbie Keane and Shay Given will belt out every word of a song they learned in primary school back in another era. Others -- Richard Dunne for one -- will remain stone faced and silent.

Translated into English, the opening words of the anthem are: "Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland."

Talk about soldiers, rifles' roar and bullets' peals may seem incongruous on a day (11/11/11) laden with symbolism, but Glenn Whelan says that tonight in Estonia is a time for heroes and a time for leaders.

"We have some talented, gifted players in the squad who have a lot of experience and we all have to stand up and be counted," says Whelan, edging to the tail end of his second qualifying campaign with Ireland.

"Lads like Duffer, Shay and Robbie have so much experience -- they have over 300 caps between them and they've been to a World Cup finals -- so we need their experience and leadership. But it's not just them, every man, from one to 11, has to stand up and be counted tonight.

"Having those players will only help us and they can guide the less-experienced players through, but I have no doubt that the other lads, like Stephen Kelly and Stephen Ward, can stand up as well.



Unfortunate

"It's do or die at this stage. All that matters is getting the right result and qualifying. This is what we have been working for over the last two years. We were very unfortunate not to qualify for the last tournament but here we are, with a chance to make the European Championships.

"We know our jobs now. Over the last eight to 10 games it's been the same players involved so we have a structure. But the good thing about this Ireland squad is that we have players who can come in and do well. The results in the friendly games over the last year and especially the summer have shown that," added Whelan.

The Stoke City man played no part in the last European Championship campaign -- his first involvement with the senior team came when caretaker manager Don Givens put him on the bench for a friendly in the period before Trapattoni's arrival.

But he's played a full-blooded part in the doomed World Cup bid and the still-alive European Championship qualifying campaign.

At times, you feel that Irish players would get fed up of talking about 'that night in Paris', but clearly it's still on Whelan's mind.

"We have been at this stage before in terms of the World Cup. We have had the feeling of going close but not making it at the end of the day and that is hard to take. We don't want to have that feeling again and hopefully we can use what happened in Paris as motivation," the Stoke man says.

"I'm desperate to get there, not just for myself but for family and friends, the people who have supported me from an early age, to get to a major tournament would be a nice thing for them.

"It would be great to get there. If we do qualify I think you'd see most of Ireland trying to get to Poland and Ukraine.

"We don't want to be spectators next summer, we want to be there. To lose out to France, and then have to watch the French play their games in the finals, was hard. You think 'that could have been us'. But hopefully we can use that as motivation. We don't want that feeling again and we'll try to turn that feeling of missing out into a positive."

And yet, standing in our way is a small nation who may have punched above their weight but who still have a strong desire to qualify at our expense.

"You have to give Estonia credit, they are in the play-offs for a reason. They came out of a very tough group and anyone who finishes ahead of Serbia has to be decent. We can't take them lightly in any way," says Whelan.



Underdogs

"They are the underdogs and they will enjoy that. It's something we will have to deal with. If you looked at their group at the start of qualification I don't think anyone would have given Estonia much of a chance of coming through one that had Italy and Serbia in it, but they did it.

"We want to qualify but it will be the same for Estonia, they'll have the same pride and motivation as we do.

"We will look at Estonia and how to stop them but our main focus will be ourselves, how we can play and score goals, make sure we don't concede. I feel we're good enough to win the game and the tie. We're confident of winning every game we go into and tonight will be no different."


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