Belfast Telegraph

I've still got plenty to offer Mick's Irish quest, says Whelan

 

Family support: No holiday for Glenn Whelan as he looks
forward to facing Denmark
Family support: No holiday for Glenn Whelan as he looks forward to facing Denmark

By Daniel McDonnell

There are professional footballers in Glenn Whelan's age bracket that are already in summer holiday mode with their families.

He wouldn't be allowed to get away with that in his house.

The Dubliner is back on Republic of Ireland duty this week after his second coming under Mick McCarthy.

His preparations for Friday's date with Denmark have been unsettled somewhat by the announcement from Aston Villa that he was being released.

McCarthy suggested earlier this week that Whelan saw it coming, but the veteran admits to some disappointment at how it was handled.

He came back from a holiday in Dubai to a missed call from the manager Dean Smith and a journalist who was seeking comment on his exit.

Whelan understands he would be better off at a club where he is guaranteed more game time, and he is happy that his stint at Villa finished on a high. He won respect from fans for his contribution to their late Premier League charge that ended in Wembley joy.

Yet he still had a job to explain developments to his nine-year-old son Jack.

"He wants me to keep playing until he becomes a professional footballer," he laughs, "That's his thing. Even with the Villa thing, not being kept on, he is asking am I retiring. I'm like, 'No'. And he says, 'You can't, you're not allowed."

Telling Jack was one of the best parts of Whelan's international comeback under McCarthy after Martin O'Neill effectively tried to retire him by favouring other options.

"To tell him that I've got a chance to put the jersey on again, he couldn't believe it," said Whelan yesterday. "He was delighted."

Whelan was never going to say no to the opportunity. "This is my dream," he says, when asked if he would prefer to have the feet up this week.

"It's what every kid dreams of - playing for your country. I don't know if it's in my blood now but it's what I want.

"Even the wife and kids are onto me. 'Are you really going to go?' and I'm like 'Yeah, it's what I want.'

"I want to do it for as long as I can and it probably got taken away from me a little bit with the last manager. This is like a second bite of the cherry now."

The Irish factor will determine Whelan's next move. His phone has been non-stop for the last few days, which is another reason why he would have preferred a delayed announcement so he can concentrate on Denmark.

A chat with McCarthy made it clear that he would prefer if Whelan kept operating at the best level possible. Therefore, packing the bags to play the game in sunnier climes is not a realistic scenario. The body is telling him he's got a lot to offer in England.

"I had one or two foreign options but when I spoke to the manager (McCarthy), it was about playing as high as I can, so for me to go to a different league, which is probably not as competitive as the Premier League or the Championship, well, if I do that, I think my options would be limited (with the Republic)," he continued.

"I've missed one game this year out of 50-odd. I've trained every day, I'm fit and healthy, I've not gone in and asked any manager for a rest or a break. In two seasons at Villa I've played 70-odd games.

"The stage I'm at in my career, I can't be looking years down the line.

"It's game by game. I want to have a chance of playing and not just being a cheerleader."

As a proud Dubliner, the chance of playing in Euro 2020 in his hometown is a major attraction. But he's wary of getting dragged into a discussion about that when there are significant hurdles to negotiate on the way there, starting off with Christian Eriksen and co in Copenhagen.

Whelan is likely to have a big role in the attempts to stifle the Spurs playmaker, and mentions that he has fared reasonably well in that regard on club duty.

O'Neill left him out for both of the playoff games in November 2017, so he had to watch on frustrated in the 5-1 play-off drubbing in Dublin.

"I've played against him quite a few times and done okay against him, so if I get the nod, and he's the man I look after, then I'll let him know that he's in for a game," he asserts.

"We need to go there and try and make them be mediocre or poor on the night."

Meanwhile, Derby skipper Richard Keogh is keeping his fingers crossed that manager Frank Lampard will not be lured back to Chelsea should Maurizio Sarri depart.

Asked if he would be sad to see the former England midfielder go, Keogh said: "Yes, for sure. I can't speak highly enough of the gaffer and working with him in his first season. He's going to have a fantastic career as a manager, for sure.

"Naturally with the speculation that's going on regarding Sarri, the gaffer is obviously going to get mentioned because of the legendary status he's got at that football club and doing such a good job with us.

"But, as far as I know, he's looking forward to next season as much as I am."

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