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Sunday 10 December 2017

Whelan: that was just the test we wanted

Midfielder admits relief as squad avoid injuries

AND so it goes on, Ireland's 76-year wait for a win in Budapest.

We were still called the Free State when we began playing matches in the Hungarian capital. Five times now Ireland have come to this beguiling city and failed to win, following last night's 0-0 draw against a very decent-looking Hungary side who could make a name for themselves in the next World Cup qualifying campaign.

But for Ireland star Glenn Whelan, last night's result counts for little as the sole purpose of the venture was for Giovanni Trapattoni to prepare his players for what's ahead in Poland in the coming days, kicking off of course against Croatia in Poznan on Sunday.

“It wasn't about the result last night, it was about the players getting through the game with no injuries and no problems,” said Whelan.

Doubt

“Some players needed game time and needed minutes on the pitch and they got that. That was my first proper game since the league season finished with Stoke. I had a few things here and there in between so I was glad to get a game under my belt.

“There was a bit of a doubt over Shay Given but he's come through okay and he should be fine for Sunday, that's all that counts for now.”

Last night in the old Népstadion – the place that could once upon a time hold 100,000 fans but only around 8,000 paid in to see the action between Ireland and Hungary – was a chance for the Irish players to get some |game-time in and for the Hungarians to give their own fans, who have suffered a series of ignominies in recent decades, a bit of a show.

Nightmare

And they certainly did put on a show. Their midfielder Adám Pintér plays his club football for Real Zaragoza and he plays like he deserves to be in La Liga as he was a joy to watch before he was taken off at half-time.

Captain Balazs Dzsudzsak may |have been a nightmare for the Irish radio and TV commentators but the Dynamo Moscow man was a touch of class as well.

“Hungary were a very good side, a typical European team, with the system they play they are hard to play against and they created some decent chances against us. We knew it would be tough last night but we wanted that, we wanted a test,” Whelan added.

“We were unlucky not to score ourselves, we had a couple of good chances and it was a good test all round.

“Since our manager has come in it's all about being defensive and being hard to beat. That's what has got us where we are today. It would have been nice to score a few goals last night, but I'm not too worried as we are creating chances, and when you don't concede goals you have a great chance of winning games,” Whelan added, before revealing that pre-match nerves were heightened by the delay in kicking off due to the weather.

“It was a strange build-up to the game. About three hours before kick-off we had a big downpour |and we could see a big cloud on the way,” he says. “It was hard because you go out to warm up, you're raring to go but you don't know if it's a five-minute delay or 15 minutes or what was going to happen.

“You're sitting around for a while and it plays on your mind but we came through it okay.”

One of the positives for Trapattoni from last night was the form of the subs as strikers Simon Cox and Jon Walters, as well as Darron Gibson and Stephen Hunt, all made contributions and have, says Whelan, now given the manager something to ponder in Poland today.

“Other players have come on and given the manager something to think about,” he says.

Headache

“The team for Sunday was more or less picked but the manager could still throw a spanner in the works.

“He's probably named the team to keep everyone on their toes, the two front lads who came on last night have give the manager a real headache and that competition is good for everyone.

“It pushes people on to try and stay in the team and it gives the lads who aren't in the starting XI that extra bit of motivation to try and get in.”

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