Monday 23 September 2019

'I am what I am and that’s me' - Glenn Whelan proud of Ireland career ahead of final international appearance

11 June 2017; Glenn Whelan of Republic of Ireland during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Austria at Aviva Stadium, in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
11 June 2017; Glenn Whelan of Republic of Ireland during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Austria at Aviva Stadium, in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Glenn Whelan wanted to give his dad a quiz.

Of the 84 times that Whelan had played for the Ireland senior team, how many times had he lost a game? And his dad was stumped.

"If most people saw my record I think they’d be surprised as it’s better than what Joe Public thinks," Whelan says.

"I played 84 times for Ireland and I was only on the losing side 16 times. I’d put that record up against anyone.

"I was asking my dad if he knew how many games I’d lost in the 84 appearances, he said it had to be more than 16, he was way off. A lot of people who have played for Ireland ended up with worse records than that."

Tonight is a big deal for Whelan as he will play for the Republic of Ireland for the 85th and last time. He says he’s not actually retiring from international football ("When people say they retire, what do they do, sign a piece of paper?").

But he knows the game is up, and feels it’s time to move on.

Whelan’s career has been one of the most-debated of the last decade, row after row of pundits and critics who felt the boy from Clondalkin has no place in an Ireland side ahead of more cultured players.

Some criticism hurt, especially the unfair (and unfunny) barbs from Eamon Dunphy that Whelan’s alleged choice of car (two Ferraris, apparently) was somehow relevant.

"When it got personal, it got to me: I have never had a Ferrari," Whelan told The Herald in a long discussion of his career yesterday.

"I have two kids, my eldest is 15 now but back then she was able to read stuff on social media, that annoyed me.

"I will take criticism of football, you can’t win all the time. It got personal and everyone else jumped on it, I was getting blamed for the players playing beside me having a tough time, that was my fault. I just thought, these people have their opinion of me and that won’t change, there have been times when I played well and I was slated, I was never going to change minds.

"With Trapattoni, we were unbeaten in 12, we’d conceded two goals in that time. But people said 'you’re not playing the right way’.

"There were other players who were not being picked so pundits and journalists felt those players were better for the team. I was not here to prove pundits wrong. I was here to get the manager on my side and pick me, that’s what counts."

Pride, pride in his own career and in his family, is what comes through in an hour-long chat with Whelan.

He admits that when he was starting out in football, other players were more talented, had a better touch. Yet here he is, two decades on, 84 senior caps (more than any other central midfielder in the history of the national team) and 277 Premier League appearances.

"Other players were probably technically better than me but you need a little bit of luck, maybe I had more determination to go and prove myself," he says.

"Maybe it’s my family and my upbringing, where I am from, but I have always had that and maybe that’s one of my best attributes, I never say die.

"I wasn’t great at school but I wasn’t bad either, once I set my mind to something I tend to get there, in football or away from football that was the case.

"Getting 84 caps was an achievement and I am grateful but back at the start, to get one would have been a dream come true. There have been bad times but the good times will always win out.

"For me it’s all about family and making them proud, then proving to the manager that I should be playing, show the players around me that I should be in the team.

"I’d like to think that the players I have played with would say no matter what, that he gave 100% and that’s what you will always get from me, there will always be better players than me but I don’t think anyone wanted it more than me.

"If you strip it all back I feel I am still normal. I have the same mates back home that I grew up with, went to school with. I have had the same mobile number for 15 years, I still go to the local, I’m still sent down to see my granny and grandad on a Sunday any time I am home.

"Anything I have, I have worked for it and I’d like to pass that down to my girl and my boy, I want to keep them as grounded as I can.

"The worst thing is trying to be something you are not. I never said I was a gifted, technical footballer, I am what I am and that’s me."

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