'Moaner' Glenn Whelan all smiles ahead of Denmark showdown
European 2020 Qualifying Group D: Republic of Ireland v Denmark (Tonight, Dublin, 7.45pm)
HE’S the biggest moaner in the group and they’ll miss him when he’s gone. Meet Glenn Whelan. The man who refused to retire.
There was a time when the Republic of Ireland midfielder wouldn’t give reporters the time of day. He’d breeze through mixed zones without flinching to his name being called over the barriers for a ‘quick word’.
The genesis of the discord and the seven-year radio silence was largely down to Eamonn Dunphy’s very personal criticism of Whelan.
“He’s a terrible player,” Dunphy said. “He can’t run, he can’t pass, he can’t tackle, he doesn’t see anything. He drives two Ferraris. I think he’s a very lucky lad to have 50 caps for Ireland.”
As it turned out, Whelan never drove a Ferrari - and he will win his 91st cap for his country against Denmark in a winner-takes-all showdown in Dublin tonight.
Since winning his international debut back in 2008 under Giovanni Trapattoni, Whelan’s stock has never been higher.
Yesterday morning, the 35-year-old defensive midfielder was all smiles when he sat down with newspaper reporters in Abbotstown.
The scowl that was reserved for the media is long gone.
Against his will, the Hearts midfielder was ushered into international retirement by former manager Martin O’Neill.
Of course, O’Neill generously invited him back to play in a so-called ‘farewell’ game against Northern Ireland.
It was the first time Whelan had spoken to the Irish media in seven years and it was clear at that press conference 12 months ago that he was not happily retired from the international stage.
“I appreciated the phone call from Martin to come in and play in that game as he didn't have to do that,” Whelan says. “That could have been the end me of me… I’ve got a second bite of the cherry now and played some games, we had a few run-ins on the pitch, me and Martin, but off the field everything was fine.
“There were two times where we clashed, really clashed, but off the pitch he's the manager and he wins. We shook hands and got on with it but at the end of it, I think he appreciated it more me having a go than holding it in and speaking behind his back or to other lads.”
The so-called training ground ‘bust-ups’ can be over-hyped, as Whelan adds: “It happens all the time, more than you guys realise. Decisions, tactics, where he wants you in a wall, stuff like that.
“We’re not children. Martin had a go, Roy [Keane] had a go, Mick has a go too. Martin and Roy had a way of doing things; discipline that they were on top of, but it’s down to performances and results and it didn’t happen for them in the Nations League and that is why there was a change but confrontations happen all the time, Mick and his staff are no different.”
With a scarcity of defensive midfielders in the squad, Mick McCarthy recalled Whelan when he took over and, apart from the two Gibraltar ties, the veteran has been on sentry duty for the Euro 2020 Qualifiers.
Whelan is quick to acknowledge he mightn’t be the easiest player in the world to manage.
“If you get a chance to speak to the manager, you ask him who is the first to moan and I'm sure my name will be right up there,” Whelan smiles again.
McCarthy, Whelan says, has “stripped everything back” and made the Republic tighter at the back and a little more expansive going forward.
Alongside David McGoldrick, Whelan has been Ireland’s most consistent player in this qualification campaign.
Known in today’s vernacular as the defensive pivot, Whelan carries the role off to a tee.
“It’s the necessary evil job that is just sitting there, breaking things up, getting the ball, giving it to others, and in modern day football it’s probably more pertinent than ever; he is particularly good at it,” says McCarthy.
“Players appreciate them when they play in the teams because they allow others to go and play. I guarantee if you were picking teams in training that all those players, those sitters that keep the ball, they get picked on a regular basis very early on.”
Whelan will be entrusted with keeping a tight rein on Christian Eriksen tonight – the man who ruined Ireland’s 2018 World Cup finals dream with a splendid hat-trick in Dublin two years ago.
It just so happens Whelan wasn’t around then when Eriksen was granted the freedom of Dublin City.