Sunday 22 July 2018

'He doesn't fall into the media spin' - Roy Keane hails unsung hero Glenn Whelan

Glenn Whelan does some stretching before training at Abbotstown. Photo: Sportsfile
Glenn Whelan does some stretching before training at Abbotstown. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Roy Keane is asked for his take on Conor McGregor. This is the headline that the world has been waiting for.

"I didn't watch it," he replies of McGregor's bout with Floyd Mayweather, pricking the balloon. "Strangely enough, I could not get into it and I have no interest in that.

"I like boxing, but I don't like all that other MMA. I always have respect for people who go into the ring and bash each other, I've respect for that but I never got into MMA."

So he was happy that the boxer won?

"Well, obviously boxing was always going to win," he shrugs. "Because McGregor was changing sport."

Best of luck with creating a viral sensation from those words. Keane and McGregor are unlikely allies, but they do get mentioned in the same bracket when youthful arguments rage about Ireland's greatest ever sportsman.

It's fairly safe to say that Glenn Whelan's name will never feature in those discussions, with the long-serving Ireland midfielder the whipping boy of this generation when judged from a TV studio.

When his name popped up in discussion yesterday, Keane suggested that history will be kinder to the 33-year-old who is known to be miffed by some of the commentary on him over the years. He has long since the abandoned the idea of stating his own case through the media.

Predictions With 81 caps to his name, he is the most-capped Irish central midfielder of all time and his recent move from Stoke to Championship outfit Aston Villa came after 277 appearances at the highest level despite consistent predictions that he was on the way out.

For a challenge like this week's jaunt to Tbilisi, Keane feels that low-maintenance characters like Whelan are invaluable because they bring the right attitude to unglamorous fixtures.

"Glenn might get a bit more credit when his career is over and I mean that in the nicest way," said Keane. "Where he can look back and say he played a lot of the games at the highest level.

"Part of being a footballer, the type of player Glenn is, is that you're always going to be open to some sort of criticism. But the beauty about Glenn Whelan is he's here, always here.

"Glenn doesn't fall into the media spin, he doesn't wear fancy-coloured boots and people pick up on that. But you talk about the modern footballer and we turn up here a lot of times with lads who aren't here or lads who are carrying knocks. Glenn Whelan is always here and available for selection."

Keane acknowledges that Whelan's role in an outnumbered central midfield pair under Giovanni Trapattoni might not have helped his perception. He says that the sitting midfielder is always open to grief; John Giles feels the concept of a 'holding player' is a fad.

"People look at them and think they need to do more," Keane continues. "And people analyse what Glenn doesn't do. But sometimes you have to focus on what the player does do well and that might be the dirty stuff in a game or they are more team players than other players. Is there stuff that Glenn can improve on and be better in? Of course.

"But he's a good team player, he's always available, he shows courage looking for the ball when sometimes a lot of players don't want to get on it.

"He plays an important role in the team because playing in the middle of the park is not easy. He will never get you a goal and probably doesn't get many assists but when you're a sitting midfielder it's hard to do that stuff because you're protecting your back four."

With Jeff Hendrick ruled out, Whelan is a safe bet to start on Saturday and Keane does not absolve him from criticism for his poor strike rate - two goals for his country - but feels others around him should be stepping up.

"You want more goals from everywhere," he says. "Be it Harry Arter or Meyler or McGeady or McClean. If you've a midfield player contributing goals, it has a huge effect on the team. A decent midfielder should have a couple of goals in his locker, five or six or seven every season whether that's in the Premier League or international level.

"There is a media spin, (calls for) people like Wes (Hoolahan) and you want players who can create that bit of quality in tough situations. You think of Austria away with Wes giving in a good ball (for McClean). It's very easy sitting here having a chat about it saying we need more and it can be difficult when you're out there but on Saturday we will need someone to produce that bit of quality to win us the game."

The reference to the Premier League is a small bit optimistic in the context of this Irish squad given that 14 out of the 25 are based in the Championship. In an earlier discussion, Keane had referenced a desire to attend more top-flight fixtures and even Champions League matches for scouting purposes whereas the reality mostly involves second-tier venues.

In that context, it was put to him that this Ireland group booking a ticket to Russia would arguably be a greater achievement than the 1994 and 2002 campaigns that he was a part of.

"I'm not a great one for comparing teams," he continued. "These players have done well in their own right and if we get there, they will get the plaudits. And if we don't then obviously the staff and the management will get hammered and they'll get away with it!

"I do think these players probably deserve a touch more credit than they are getting," he continued, smiling. "And maybe like Glenn, they will get more plaudits when they retire."

After all, as he has frequently pointed out, their spirit has come to the fore in this campaign even when performances have fallen short of the desired level. Keane brought the chat down boxing lane by speaking about the big-game atmosphere he craves.

"You're supposed to be nervous," he asserted. "Are we going to be on nervous on Saturday? You can bet your life on it because if you're not then you should get out of the game, you should not be involved in the game.

"That's an energy that can give you a bit of strength. It keeps you on your toes. I look at boxers. Do you think boxers are nervous when they go into the ring? You bet your life that they are. They are all bravado at those press conferences - but they are nervous as hell. You should be."

Bravado is not a word that springs to mind when this Irish dressing room is mentioned, and Whelan may never be a poster boy. But his diligence will be required to avoid a sucker punch.

Irish Independent

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