Sport European Championships

Sunday 15 September 2019

Wes Hoolahan: 'If you're not fully fit, you don't want to go into a massive game'

Wes Hoolahan missed the Poland game
Wes Hoolahan missed the Poland game
Wes Hoolahan is hoping to start against Bosnia tonight
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

His absence from the starting line-up in Poland provoked a furious debate so it was inevitable that Wes Hoolahan would have to address it when his next media appearance came around.

With five simple words, he attempts to clear up any lingering trace of doubt. "It was totally my call," he asserts.

Hoolahan went to Martin O'Neill in the aftermath of the remarkable win over Germany to say that he didn't feel he could get through another 90 minutes just three days later in Warsaw. A heel injury had curtailed his preparations for the Aviva heroics and he was on painkillers to cope with the problem.

"I'd trained only one day," he explains. "I spoke to Martin and Martin was fine. I think he appreciated it. You don't want to let the lads down. If you're not fully fit, then you don't want to go into a massive game. You want 11 players all being fit. It was tough mentally and physically playing the Germany game."

The 20-minute cameo that he mustered up in a vain attempt at a comeback wasn't enough to secure automatic qualification but, importantly, the 33-year-old playmaker is in good health ahead of round one in Bosnia. "I've no concerns," he stresses.

This time around, if his name is absent from the team-sheet, an inquest would be justified. But it would be a major surprise if that happened, given O'Neill's reliance on his creativity in search of a valuable away goal and his weakened options in the final third.

Perhaps the irrational anger at his Polish brief was borne from a difficulty in grasping the irony of Hoolahan signing himself out of a starting berth given that he was overlooked by the previous regime. He spent Euro 2012 in a Spanish villa despite being in the prime of his career although his performances for Norwich this term could aid the argument that his peak has arrived at a late in his football life.

"I haven't gone with Ireland to a major tournament so it would be the icing on the cake to qualify and go to France," he admits. "It would be a great achievement for me and for Ireland."

There is a school of thought amongst those close to Hoolahan that the fuss generated over his exclusion has worked against him, especially so in the Giovanni Trapattoni era. After all, the Italian had a stubborn streak. Eamon Dunphy's passionate support from the RTÉ studio has almost become a source of embarrassment, particularly when his pals found an old photo of Dunphy making a presentation to a young Hoolahan (left).

"I'm his love-child - I've been hearing a lot of stories about that," he laughs. "It (the picture) was a five-a-side in the Monto in Liberty House when I was about 12 or 13 and I got player of the tournament. Eamon was handing out the trophies. Or 'my Dad', I should say."

Hoolahan can see the funny side, yet he is generally reluctant to get drawn into deeper analysis about his late arrival to the international scene. "I've probably got better as the years have gone on," he shrugs.

He is asked if it's about his size. "Size doesn't really matter you know," he responds. "Some of the best players in the world are probably smaller. Messi, Cazorla..."

But is it viewed as a good thing when coming through the ranks in Britain and Ireland? "No, it hasn't been the case," he concedes. "You just keep working hard and do your bits on and off the pitch and hopefully you get your rewards."

A French adventure would tick that box just nicely.

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