Monday 23 September 2019

Whelan reflects on over-the-top flak ahead of farewell

Scathing criticism: Glenn Whelan says there were certain times when it got a little bit too much. Photo: Sportsfile
Scathing criticism: Glenn Whelan says there were certain times when it got a little bit too much. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

For six years, Glenn Whelan had avoided formal press conferences on Ireland duty.

But on the eve of the farewell that has been imposed on him by Martin O'Neill's decision to favour younger options, the manager told the 34-year-old that he'd be coming with him to face the cameras.

"It wasn't a choice," he said, with a wry smile.

The story of his international career is well-known, even though it's a while since we've heard the player's take.

He is the most-capped Irish midfielder of all time - this evening will be number 85 - yet he has polarised opinions.

Persistent criticism has stung, although the Dubliner insists that it's actually his family and friends that have taken that personally.

Eamon Dunphy's jibes had the most impact. There was a reference to a Ferrari.

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"My background got brought up and there was a thing written about a car I was driving which was mentioned," said Whelan. "And I definitely didn't drive that car.

"Then people, especially those who aren't close to me, they start believing that. I get that things can't be rosy all the time, but I think there were certain times when it got a little bit much too much.

"I moved away to play football when I was 15 and everybody loves the limelight when they are raving about you but there's definitely another side to it. I think I'm a normal person away from the pitch"

Whelan could never be accused of courting publicity. He is a family man and his son Jack will be mascot this evening.

The wider clan will descend on the Aviva Stadium to share in his moment, and the man himself admitted that he will be emotional.

Indeed, he was quite open and engaging in these reasonably unfamiliar surroundings.

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"It (press) was never something I was afraid of," he grinned.

"It's not something I need or particularly like doing."

If he wanted validation from anyone, he got it from inside the dressing-room. The Aston Villa player made that clear when asked if his contribution was under-appreciated.

"That is something you (the media) might want to answer as you are the ones who write the headlines," he replied.

"When I come in, all I want to do is impress my family first and foremost.

"Then I wanted to impress the manager. I wanted to play so, no, it wasn't about coming in and making the headlines better.

"I would like to think the players that I've played with - if you ever want to speak to anyone and ask what I was like - they would tell you the truth."

Whelan's peers have always respected his professionalism and the unseen work which was overlooked.

During the Giovanni Trapattoni days, he was a whipping boy and not shy about letting it be known when he felt that the manager's system was exposing him to grief.

He's had a run-in or two with O'Neill as well, although they bounced off each other on stage yesterday.

"We've had a couple of tiffs that I've lost so it's 2-0 to the manager," he quipped, detailing that one scrap arose from when O'Neill was refereeing a training-ground game.

From his younger days, Whelan has always had a combative streak. He was dubbed 'McAngry' by colleagues because of it.

And he's had to fight throughout his career; from making the choice to leave Manchester City to climbing up the ladder and then fending off competition with club and country when managers were under pressure to cut him adrift in favour of crowd-pleasers.

It's obvious that he is proud to have toughed it out and carved out a very respectable career in a hard industry. That does take strength of character.

"I don't think I've ever moaned about being dropped or not playing," he asserts.

"It's about getting back out there and working on the training pitch."

O'Neill interjected at various times to praise Whelan's influence, while confirming he thought it was time to try something different in the aftermath of the World Cup failure.

The Clondalkin man stressed that he would never formally retire from international football and would always be on hand in an emergency.

A reference to never picking and choosing games for his country led for his take on eligibility matters but he dealt diplomatically with Declan Rice's dilemma.

"I can't speak for Declan," he said. "He's got a big choice because there are two countries fighting for him which was never the case with me.

"I'm Irish, I have green blood and that, so it was an easy decision for me. But the manager said it, he's a young lad, I think he's only 19 so there's a lot of pressure on his shoulders, just leave him to make a decision for himself.

"And even now with the young lad Michael (Obafemi), I think there are things that can happen there. If you start pressurising them, they can go down a different route."

He was warming up now. The coaching badges are under way, but what about punditry?

"Never say never to anything," he said, breaking into a smile again. "There's a few people out there who are doing OK and I think I might be a bit better than them. That's my opinion."

Irish Independent

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