Loyal lieutenant Whelan ranks highly in Trap's troop
IF Giovanni Trapattoni is the general, then Glenn Whelan is the loyal lieutenant. He played every game of the Euro 2012 qualifiers. In fact, he's lined out in pretty much every Irish fixture of note since the Italian was appointed.
Rewind to May '08. Whelan landed for a training camp in Portugal without a cap to his name. A six-month stint at Stoke had just ended with promotion, but, in the eyes of many Irish fans, he was a relatively unknown figure. He was familiar to some as a promising youth who sometimes popped up as a goalscorer at Soccer Saturday during his time at Sheffield Wednesday -- the club he joined after his teenage dreams at Manchester City were dashed.
Trapattoni saw something different. He immediately warmed to a central midfielder with all the right attributes for what he wanted from that area in his chosen system and, 38 caps later, Whelan is a fixture for both club and country.
"He was the only manager who believed that I could come into international football," admitted the Dubliner, yesterday, as he reflected on what the change of boss did for his career. "There were one or two before him who I thought I might have had a squeak to get into a couple of squads, but it never happened.
"I'm grateful for what he has done for me. If he didn't come along, I quite possibly might not be sitting here today. And I'd like to think I have repaid him by my performances and by what I've done. But I'll never forget what he has done for me. He has probably been the best manager I could have hoped for to come into the Ireland team."
What does he remember of the Algarve exercise? "It was like 'right, this is it, take your chance'. I had to try and show something because these things don't come around too often. I might have had a bad training camp and then never have been seen again. There are other players who were involved in that trip who got their chance. And we've had a couple of training camps where other players have come in."
For Whelan, this experience in Poland will be a real family affair. His finals kicked off in unorthodox fashion -- he got married on May 19, and was allowed an extra day off before reporting for duty on May 21. His wife and sisters are coming to Poland. His father, Dave, is making the trip with five mates who are travelling by camper van, although Dad tends to do things differently on match day. "He will only watch the game on his own," says Whelan. "He can't have anybody around him and hates people talking and things like that."