Sunday 19 January 2020

Ronnie Whelan: The clamour around Wes Hoolahan is foolish

'The clamour around the Norwich man is foolish'

Wes Hoolahan in action for Ireland against Peter Pekarík of Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Wes Hoolahan in action for Ireland against Peter Pekarík of Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Ronnie Whelan

MARTIN O’Neill has good reasons for trying to suppress hype around Wes Hoolahan. No matter how much people want to believe it, he is not the man who can turn Ireland’s trip to France this summer into a party. At least not on his own.

I was thinking about Wes and Ireland after watching another Premier League weekend unfold with Leicester so far ahead of all the elite clubs that it’s not funny.

Many tried to lead O’Neill into a comparison between Ireland in France and Leicester which he didn’t buy and with good reason. Anyone trying to make a link should consider this.

Wes is a fitful presence in a Norwich team currently battling hard  against relegation and currently lie a full 38 points behind the now runaway leaders.

That’s the gap and it’s a big one. To put Ireland in the same bubble as Leicester heading to the Euro 2016 finals is nonsense.

The clamour around Hoolahan is foolish. Sure, Ireland play better when he is playing well but he doesn’t always play well.

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

I believe O’Neill thinks he will need to win a fight in every game we play in France and that Hoolahan does not have that ability in his make-up.

I think O’Neill will try to subdue Sweden with an aggressive high tempo approach and if that battle is won, then perhaps there is room for Hoolahan to do his stuff.

I think he is right and I’m certain it is Ireland’s best approach to Euro 2016.

I don’t buy into the idea that Hoolahan is so good that O’Neill essentially hand him the ball and tell him to go and win games.

The truth is Hoolahan is not good enough to run a team. If he was, he would be running Norwich’s midfield and he only gets to do that sometimes. That has been the story of his career.

The narrative many write for Hoolahan is that he is a victim of the modern fashion for tall, athletic footballers and the fading interest in top clubs for local talent.

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Martin O'Neill's system on Tuesday allowed Wes Hoolahan to thrive (SPORTSFILE)

Hoolahan is a survivor of a difficult era for lads of small stature and he can do wonderful things when he has the space and opportunity but he’s not the future for Ireland and I believe, is a luxury which O’Neill will use carefully.

I don’t doubt that there is a lost generation of footballers from these islands, top quality players who were ignored while the big clubs sent their scouting operations to Africa and South America, hoovering up the best young lads they found there.

I think Leicester is a sign that these players have not been completely lost. I think we’re seeing it at Bournemouth and other clubs and for me, this is where O’Neill should be looking for wild cards for France.

Harry Arter should be on the plane, I have no doubt about that and as I mentioned after the Swiss game, Eunan O’Kane is definitely one to watch.

Shane Duffy in action for Ireland against Switzerland

I’d bring Shane Duffy, another who is doing it the hard way and dropping back to move forward. He looks comfortable at international level and John O’Shea won’t go on for much longer.

I looked at a lot of international games last week and I saw the same thing I’m seeing in the Premier League.

It almost makes me angry to see well over £1 billion of talent languishing more than ten points behind Leicester who continue to do what a title chasing team should do and win games 1-0.

Behind them I see teams without consistency or hunger and if there is some inspiration to be drawn from Leicester for O’Neill, it is perhaps in the knowledge that standards have dropped across football.

When you take a look at the current standard in international football, it is not fanciful to think that a hungry well-organised and physically committed Ireland team could do well in France in June.

I think O’Neill has that in his mind too but I think it will be achieved by togetherness and aggression and I don’t he believe he sees Hoolahan as the key to a successful tournament.

That’s why he takes every opportunity he can to talk him down.

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