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'All I ever wanted was to play for Ireland' - Read the full interview as Wes Hoolahan announces international retirement

EXCLUSIVE

Wes Hoolahan's goal against Sweden at Euro 2016 was a career highlight
Wes Hoolahan's goal against Sweden at Euro 2016 was a career highlight
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Fitting, perhaps, that for a player whose biggest moment in the line of duty with the national team came in Paris, the theme tune is Je ne regrette rien.

Wes Hoolahan has today called time on his Ireland career, at the age of 35, with ‘only’ 43 caps to show for it.

Since he made his international debut, against Colombia in 2008, the Republic of Ireland have played in 110 games, but Hoolahan appeared in a fraction of those.

He could, and should, have played more times for Ireland but as he closes the door on his international career, with good times ahead (hopefully) at club level, Hoolahan bears no ill will despite a four-year gap between his first and second caps.

“I don’t feel frustrated that I won the number of caps I did, or that the Ireland thing came late in my career. I loved it, loved every minute of it, every time I was called up it was an honour and I was honoured to get to 43 caps, I am very happy with that,” Hoolahan told The Herald, having decided to finish up with Ireland with his 36th birthday in sight.

“At times I thought I wouldn’t get the chance to play but you get your head down, work away with your club and hope that it comes around for you. And I was delighted that when Martin got the Ireland job he picked me, and his record speaks for itself in terms of the number of times he picked me, I think I am the third most-capped player under Martin.

“Even to play for Ireland once is the dream when you are a kid. I always said to myself, I would love to play for my country, even once, to see what it’s like and always have that on my record so to get as many caps as I did, I can feel very happy about that.”

Just as the omission of Andy Reid by Giovanni Trapattoni made him a cause celebre, the status of Hoolahan in the Ireland set-up, under Trap and then O’Neill, was also a public matter. Debates of the last four years centred on whether the gifted playmaker should be in the team or not.

Hoolahan now says he tried not to let those debates enter his head.

“You don’t listen to all the talk about you, you just concentrate on your own game, you’re in a bubble, you get your head into the game, you just want to get a chance, help the team and do well,” he says.

His senior international career started in 2002 when the then-Shelbourne player was called up by caretaker Don Givens, an unused sub away to Greece.

He was finally given his debut under Trapattoni in 2008 but it took him until 2013 (when he was 31) to start a competitive match. “Even though I was only on the pitch for about a minute against Colombia, that game stands out for me as it was my first cap.

“Scoring my first goal for Ireland, at home to Poland, was another milestone for me, those two experiences stick out for me. Other things stand out too, going over to America and playing in a couple of friendlies, that was a new experience.

“People have asked me if scoring against Sweden in Paris at the Euros was the highlight but, being honest, it was a bigger buzz to see Robbie Brady score the winner against Italy. That meant so much, it got us to the knockout stage, out of a group of death, and the celebrations that night in Lille were more important than my goal against Sweden.”

With 43 caps already won and eight Ireland games confirmed for 2018, Hoolahan could have been forgiven for sticking around to pick up more appearances and reach the hallowed 50-cap mark. But, never one to seek the limelight, that wasn’t a plan.

“It wasn’t a thing for me to get to 50 caps. I didn’t think that way. I really enjoyed the Euros in France and after that I said it would be just one more campaign, I enjoyed the last campaign - even though it didn’t end well for us - but this is the right time for me to go,” he says.

“Obviously I would like to thank Martin and his backroom team, and wish them well. I’d like to thank the supporters, they are the best fans in the world and they always showed me wonderful support. He (Martin O’Neill) said I never let myself or the team down, and he wished me well.

“It was an honour to play for my country, I have great memories and they will last forever. I grew up dreaming of playing for my country, and when that dream came true for me it was a great honour.”

WES IN GREEN

43 caps (3 goals, 2008-2017)

November 2002: First time in senior squad, unused sub in friendly v Greece under Don Givens.

May 2008: Makes senior debut, as sub in friendly win over Colombia in London, while at Blackpool.

November 2012: Ends long wait for second cap to make home debut, friendly defeat v Greece, on the books of Norwich City.

February 2013: Scores first international goal in 3rd appearance for Ireland, friendly v Poland.

March 2013: At last, makes competitive debut, aged 30, away v Sweden.

June 2013: First competitive start for Ireland, in 3-0 home win over Faroes.

November 2013: starts in Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge of Ireland.

November 2015: Plays in both legs of Euro play-off win over Bosnia.

June 2016: Scores in first game of Euro 2016 finals, v Sweden in Paris, on occasion of his 31st cap.

October 2017: Makes 5th appearance in World Cup qualifying campaign, v Moldova.

November 2017: Wins 43rd and final cap in second leg of World Cup play-off defeat at home to Denmark.

February 2018: Announces international retirement.

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