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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Glenn aims to make most of his second coming

Mick lets you know what you're good at rather than stuff you need to work on

Glenn Whelan during a Republic of Ireland Training Session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown
Glenn Whelan during a Republic of Ireland Training Session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown

Glenn Whelan feels that he has a very good reason for not retiring from international football. His son, Jack, wants to play in the same Ireland side as his dad and wants him to stick around until that happens.

The fact that Jack Whelan is just nine years old is a minor detail.

"He wants me to keep playing until he becomes a professional footballer," Whelan says with a smile. "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'."

The fact that Whelan was allowed to head for the retirement home will stand as one of the major indictments of the Martin O'Neill regime, as Whelan maintains that, even though he had a farewell game at home to Northern Ireland last year, he didn't retire but "was retired".

O'Neill decided he could cope without Whelan and judged that Cyrus Christie was a better option as a central midfielder.

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Now, Christie can't even make the Ireland squad and was relegated with his club, while Whelan is almost certain to start in Denmark on Friday and his club got promoted to the Premier League for next season (though Whelan won't play a part as Aston Villa have released him).

Whelan, restored by Mick McCarthy to the Ireland XI for the March win over Georgia, would be entitled to have a go at O'Neill for effectively ending his Ireland career.

He is polite about the Derry native, but he also makes it clear that (a) leaving the Ireland squad was not his choice and (b) he has a lot to offer the side aiming for Euro 2020 qualification.

"I want to do it as long as I can and it probably got taken away from me a little bit with the last manager," he says of his Ireland career.

"This is like a second bite of the cherry now and I want to come in and play as many games as I can. Not just play games, I want to affect games as long as I can do that.

"When I got the phone call from Martin O'Neill I was delighted. It was really respectful of him to ask me to come in and to say I'd get the farewell.

"But Martin at the time had his way of thinking and where the team was going to go. I shook his hand and I was delighted with that. Then a few months later, obviously things didn't go well with a c ouple of bad results again, and there was a change of manager.

"I got a phone call, and he [McCarthy] asked me if I'd retired. I said I'd never retire, obviously I understood where the manager was going at the time, but he said, 'If I need you, or if there was a development, would you come back in?'.

"I said, 'Yeah, as long as I'm not going to be a cheerleader'. I wanted to come back in and have a chance to fight to play."

That's why he is spending this week in the rain of Dublin, instead of being on a family holiday or off networking with managers and agent so he could secure his club football.

"This is my dream, it's what I've dreamt of as a kid, it's what every kid out there 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 on to me, 'Are you really going to go?', and I'm like, 'Yeah, it's what I want'," he says.

Villa made it known last week that Whelan would be leaving, along with seven other players included in a end-of-season clearout.

The veteran knew that an exit was on the way as there had been no talk of a new contract for next term, but even so, the way the news landed was hard to take.

When he turned on his phone after a flight, having left the Villa camp for a brief family holiday, he had two missed calls: one from a journalist saying he had been released and the second one from Dean Smith, the Villa manager.

He says that was the one disappointment of his Villa exit but he took it on the chin and knows that after contributing to Villa's promotion success, he will be in demand.

International team-mates have spread their wings and headed to the USA (Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle) and Australia (Damien Duff) late on in their careers and while Whelan says he has had offers from "foreign clubs" he will stick close to home. McCarthy has made it clear that his international prospects will be enhanced if he stays around this part of the world, at a high level.

"I think anyone who has worked for Mick knows what he is like. He is infectious, he builds your ego up a bit and he lets you know what you are good at, rather than stuff that you maybe need to work on," Whelan says, another nod to the previous regime.

"Results breed confidence and the last two results have brought a swagger back. We had a difficult 12 months before that, so we said we just needed to work on what happened against Georgia and keep improving on that."

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