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Monday 23 April 2018

Noel's still on hunt for goals in festive spell

Wigan's birthday boy ready for Shrewsbury test

Irish striker Noel Hunt (l) in action for Wigan Athletic during a recent League One clash with Blackpool. Pic courtesy of Bernard Platt/Wigan Post
Irish striker Noel Hunt (l) in action for Wigan Athletic during a recent League One clash with Blackpool. Pic courtesy of Bernard Platt/Wigan Post

It will be 15 years next month since Noel Hunt left Ireland to try his luck across the water, and Britain's been his home ever since.

But time has not chipped away at his accent, as Déise as the day he left, and his vocabulary has also stayed close to home.

"I'd talk to people over here about who we are playing on St Stephen's Day and they look at me funny, they have no idea what I am talking about, it's Boxing Day to them," says Hunt, now in the twilight of his playing career with a Wigan Athletic side riding high at the top of League One.

"If I went back home to Waterford and started talking about Boxing Day, I'd be the one getting a box from people."

Calendar

Whatever name is used, today is one of those odd days in the English football calendar, when fans and players across England get out of the sofa and head off for a game.

"I think I have only been away on this day twice in my career, but it can be hard if you are playing away, at the other end of the country and you are away from family," he says.

And Christmas Day is a normal day for footballers. "It's a working day," says Hunt, who has played for Dunfermline, Dundee United, Reading, Leeds, Ipswich, Southend and Portsmouth before his move to Wigan.

"You are used to Christmas in England at this stage, the last time I had Christmas at home in Ireland was maybe 15 years ago.

"You go on and train on Christmas Day as usual, though we did have the day off last year for some reason. You go in for an hour, it's just to stretch the legs a bit, get a feel of the ball for a bit and you usually shoot off home, back to the family, after an hour. "And it gets you out of the house. I actually look forward to it, seeing the boys on Christmas Day but you all still get to have your family dinner," added Hunt.

Away games can be an issue, though not for Hunt and his Wigan team-mates this year. Wigan were away to Oxford on Saturday, an eight-hour round trip, but today they are at home to Shrewsbury.

It's also a big annual occasion for Hunt as it's his birthday, the striker turning 35 today. Wigan v Shrewsbury a glamorous way to celebrate.

"My wife goes mad as what I want to do on my birthday depends completely on how the game goes," he says. "I remember having a few birthdays where I have scored that day so I am in a great mood, but if you have lost and played badly the last thing you want to do is go out."

Hunt missed out on medals in his time in Ireland (Shamrock Rovers lost when he played in the FAI Cup final) and also in Scotland: he was a runner-up in the Scottish Cup three times and also lost out in the Championship playoff final, with Reading (2011, where they lost to Swansea City).

But there have been successes, like winning the League Two title with Portsmouth last season and he's on course for promotion with Wigan this season.

"The season has gone well, we're top of the table going into the Christmas period, we could end up eight points clear in two weeks but there are a lot of games and if we don't do our jobs right we could be a few points behind by the end of January," Hunt says.

Science

"We are going well under Paul Cook, he has a good side playing good football and I am enjoying things here."

Having turned 35 today, he knows his playing career won't last forever and he's already started to plan ahead, having worked on his UEFA A licence qualification this year while also doing some coaching with Wigan's underage players.

Hunt has played in just five of Wigan's league games to date and accepts his role under former Sligo boss Cook.

"It took me a while to get onto the pitch this season but I can't argue too much as the boys up front have done really well for us," says Hunt.

"I have a good relationship with the gaffer and I am still learning things, on and off the field.

"Of course I would like to be playing every week but I also know I have a role to play off the field as well as on it. It's all about getting the club promoted and getting Wigan back into the Championship.

"The next step for me is to move off the pitch and into coaching, but I'm not ready to do it yet.

"The sports science people here tell me I am one of the fittest and quickest players at the club, I can still get around the field, and hopefully I have a few more games and more goals in me before I pack it in.

"Another promotion would be nice to have on the CV. To have won promotion in League One and League Two and played in the Championship, that would be nice to have on your record."

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