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'I was thinking that's me finished but we'll see'

Hoolahan's last game was behind closed doors in Australia just 12 days ago but he'd rather it not be the final note of his career as his adventure Down Under comes to an early end

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STRANGE EXPERIENCE: Former Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan in action for Newcastle Jets against Melbourne City on March 23. Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

STRANGE EXPERIENCE: Former Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan in action for Newcastle Jets against Melbourne City on March 23. Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

Getty Images

STRANGE EXPERIENCE: Former Ireland midfielder Wes Hoolahan in action for Newcastle Jets against Melbourne City on March 23. Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused the premature end of Wes Hoolahan's time in Australia, and possibly even the end of his playing career as the veteran is unsure if he'll line out again.

He has seen friends and family lose their livelihoods due to the crisis so he's not looking for sympathy for an unexpected finish to what's proved to be a short stint in the A-League.

He's certainly not down and out Down Under.

"I know everyone is affected, it's not just a football issue," Hoolahan says from his current base in New South Wales as he tidies up his affairs to prepare for a return to England in the next fortnight with his family.

"My mate Buzzer (Ger Rowe) is a taxi driver, he's not earning now because of the situation, my father-in-law drives a taxi too and he's the same, struggling, so it's hard for people when there's a mortgage to pay and no money coming in."

He has packed a lot of stories, though not much football, in to a short stint in Australia. His time with Newcastle Jets began with a bang, a serious ankle injury on only his second appearance, a return to fitness in February just as coronavirus was taking a grip on the world, just five outings for the Dubliner and then, effectively, end of the season. Hoolahan does not expect to play there again.

Unemployed

"They decided earlier this week to call off the season for the moment, they said they might get it back up and running but most of the clubs have more or less told the players that they are unemployed. A lot of clubs have pulled out of their contracts," he says.

"The thing about football down here is that Fox Sports more or less pay for it all with TV rights, the club owners can't afford to keep it going.

"We only had a new manager in, Karl Robinson, and we were flying. We'd won six out of seven and we really were moving up the table, we had six games left but football is not as important as people's health.

"So I am finished and aiming to get back to England in the next few weeks, there's nothing to stay here for. A lot of the players who had come here from the UK, like Bobby Burns and Joe Ledley, have already gone back home.

"The season could get going again but I can't see that happening. It's not like the Premier League. Here if you finish top, you win the league - if you finish bottom, you don't get relegated, so it's not as massive as back in the UK."

Hoolahan, along with team-mate and compatriot Roy O'Donovan, had the dubious honour of appearing in one of the last games of top-flight football played globally (outside of Belarus), a 2-1 win at home to Melbourne City 12 days ago, a match played behind closed doors.

The former Shelbourne man is not a fan of the experience of having no fans there and warned against doing that in the Premier League, unless there are no other options.

"It was very strange, it didn't feel like a game at all. Without fans, football is more or less dead," says Hoolahan.

"There's no excitement playing behind closed doors, you have no desire to do your stuff, fans are the most important part of the game. I'd always heard that said, but I only realised it when I played in that game last week.

"It's not a great experience, but if that's the only way they can do it they will have to look at it, play it behind closed doors and get it done with."

A veteran of 112 Premier League appearances and someone with a keen interest in the Premier League survival of former club Norwich, he says the current season has to be completed above all else.

"You have to finish off the league season. The FA Cup, even the Champions League, you could lose those and scrap them, but the leagues are very important, Liverpool about to win the league but not getting the trophy, teams fighting relegation and promotion," he says.

"Look at the Championship where Leeds and West Brom have been so good all season, you can't just tell them they can't get promoted.

"It would be unfair to Norwich to just tell them they are relegated as they'd feel they have a chance of staying up, Villa the same.

"The contract situation will be hard as there will be players the clubs want to keep, players they had planned to let go.

"We need the experts to work that out but the leagues have to finish.

"Clubs will have to come to the players and look for an agreement for them to take part of their wages until the league starts up and the revenue comes in again.

"I think players would do that if they had to, no one wants to be in this situation, but the whole world is suffering. Everyone needs to stick together and try our best to get football back and get our lives back on track."

When he suffered an ankle injury in only his second game for the Jets last September, that seemed like a disaster, but words like that have a different meaning in April 2020.

Crisis

"My injury is nothing compared to what's going on with coronavirus and the more people stick to the rules the quicker life can get back to normal," he says, aware of how slowly Australia moved to tackle the crisis.

"They had a different approach to it here, in the last 7-10 days they really tightened up, the shops and restaurants that had been open are closed, it's takeaway only, you don't see people on the beaches.

"I think Australia was about two weeks behind Ireland and the UK in terms of taking action."

His next move back is back to England - his house near Norwich was left vacant so he has a base to return to - and the family entering self-isolation for two weeks. After that come choices, to play on one more season or retire?

He bats away questions about coming back and signing for his first club, and first love, Shelbourne.

"You must be working for Joe Casey if you ask me that," he jokes.

"In my head, I was thinking, that's me finished, but we'll see.

"Before this season I said this would be my last year but now I have missed so much football and barely played in Australia I have to think about it.

"My last game, there were no fans at it as it was behind closed doors and I'd hate that to me my final game."