Euro 2012: If the Greeks can do it...
Whelan vows to defy odds in Poland and insists Irish are setting serious targets
GLENN WHELAN smiles when he's told that Greece were rated as 80/1 outsiders to win Euro 2004 and the smile's even wider when he's informed that Ireland are today listed at the exact same price to win Euro 2012.
"We'll take 81/1 just so it's a little bit better," he laughs. But for Whelan, the idea of beating the odds, whether that means Ireland beating Croatia in Poznan tomorrow night or even, whisper it, winning the tournament, is no laughing matter.
"Croatia is massive but we want to be here right to the end," he says. To the very end, Glenn?
"Yeah, why not? Anything can happen. You look at Greece a few years ago. I'm sure if there was a Greece player who said let's go to the end, people would be laughing at them. But why not?
"Trapattoni has never called us Greece or said, 'We could be like Greece'. It's something that's been thrown around because of the underdog tag that we seem to always have. Greece, who'd ever expect them to win a European Championships?
"So why not us?
"We know it's going to be a massive task. We are not silly. No one is really giving us a chance and if it comes off it is going to be one of the biggest upsets. But you set your targets high and see what you can achieve," added Whelan, who says that tomorrow's game will set the tone for the group, for both teams.
Lose your opening game and it's hard to claw your way back in, but avoid defeat and you could be on your way to the knockout stages.
"The first game in any tournament is massive, with both teams trying to get off to a good start" says Whelan.
"If we get off to a good start, people get really excited about it. If we get a defeat, it's backs against the wall and the pressure is on.
"I think tomorrow is a massive game. Whatever team comes out with a right result knows they will be really well equipped to get out of the group."
Whelan had his first taste of tournament football nine years ago, when he was part of the Irish U20 side which played at the World Youth Cup finals in the UAE. There, they had a good start. An Ireland team containing Euro 2012 men Whelan, Stephen Kelly and Kevin Doyle beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in the first group game, and used that to advance to the second-round where they lost to Colombia.
That was one of the big moments in the early part of Whelan's career, as he'd go on to play in Europe for his club and also at Wembley but this, the Euro 2012 finals, is something else -- a new level.
"There have been massive things -- obviously your debut for your country, playing in the Premiership -- all these things rolled into one. I've been lucky in my career. I've played in some big games and I've been fortunate to come through them with good results as well," says Whelan.
"As a kid, dreaming to play for your country is great, but dreaming to play for your country in a championship -- there are only a handful of people who have ever done it. Hopefully I will be lucky enough to do it."
One factor won't work against Whelan tomorrow night -- nerves. The man from Clondalkin doesn't 'do' nerves.
"No, I don't get nervous before games. I've always been good like that since I was a young lad playing in big games. But I might be a bit different come tomorrow when I see the stadium and the fans. It's things like this I've dreamed of and I want to cherish them and keep hold of them," added Whelan, who says that the recipe which Trapattoni has used for the Irish side will now truly bear fruit.
"We are structured to get to a championship -- either a World Cup or the Euros. We were unlucky with the World Cup but we have qualified for the Euros.
"It's the Italian way, the Trap way, he has his own way of doing things.
"People can knock him but look at his record. He has got a team that no-one has really given a hope to, to a World Cup play-off and European Championships. If it works and we get out of the group, then everyone will be happy."