Belfast Telegraph

I lived my dream playing for Ireland: Wes Hoolahan announces international retirement

By Gareth Hanna

Should Wes Hoolahan be in the Republic of Ireland's starting line-up? It's an inevitable debate that follows hot on the heels of every RoI team-sheet - or at least it used to.

In the long-term, fans and reporters alike will have to find something else to discuss now the 35 year-old has officially called time on his international career.

But for now at least, the debate can turn to whether or not Hoolahan should have been handed more caps.

His retirement comes after 43 caps and three goals. Only 24 of those appearance came as a starting player, the first of which arrived when the Norwich City star was already 31.

Should that have been more? The man himself isn't overly interested.

“I don’t feel frustrated that I won the number of caps I did, or that the Ireland thing came late in my career," he told The Herald in an exclusive interview. "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.

“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 (O'Neill) 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.”

Hoolahan's goal against Sweden at the Euro 2016 finals captured the emotions - not that he hadn't already won the hearts of many Ireland supporters. A huge fan of note, of course, was RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy, who once referred to the attacker as his 'love child' and consistently backed Hoolahan's cause to become a more regular starter.

“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,” Hoolahan said.

His debut arrived as a substitute against Columbia in 2008 but the second Irish appearance didn't arrive until four years later against Greece, again off the bench.

“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," he said.

“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.”

"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.

“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.”

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