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'I left my heart on the pitch... I’m showing her that I’m well able' - 18-year-old Irish striker out to impress

Shelbourne’s Emily Whelan took her chance against Denmark. Another could come against Belgium this evening.

Emily Whelan impressed off the bench against Denmark on Thursday.
Emily Whelan impressed off the bench against Denmark on Thursday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE to be taken, and chances to be seized when given.

Emily Whelan certainly took hers, the 18-year-old hands down the standout substitute Ireland boss Vera Pauw brought on in Thursday night’s friendly defeat to Denmark.

emily-whelan-has-a-late-chance-at-goal Emily Whelan impressed off the bench against Denmark on Thursday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Shelbourne striker made her impact felt almost immediately, sprung from the bench for the second half against one of Europe’s best sides at Tallaght Stadium. She added an injection of energy and pace, creating openings and coming close to scoring.

“I gave it my all out on the pitch,” the three-time capped senior international smiled after the 1-0 loss. “Seeing the opportunity to come on and make a difference, I took it. It was unreal.

“I just wanted to make an impact and show who I am, and not make it easy for them. I think it was a good game overall, we were unlucky, there were a few chances that we missed.

“I left my heart on the pitch, I did as much as I could and I don’t think I could have done more than getting the shot on target next time.”

With Pauw eager to give as many players a run in this friendly window — Ireland face Belgium in Brussels this evening [KO 6.30pm, live on RTÉ Player] — Whelan can certainly be pleased with the food for thought she gave her manager.

She certainly put her name in the pot for a starting position going forward, her electric speed and running in behind the defence a huge asset. It’s a different dynamic to the way regulars Rianna Jarrett and Amber Barrett play the sole striker role with the ball played to feet, but with Pauw veering towards deploying two up top now, Whelan could earn more and more international experience.

“I think she knows that I have the pace and the ability to take on players and she trusted me with that. That’s what I did.

“I think in training, I just need to work harder. It’s the best team that is getting put out and it’s the best team started today, so I think if I keep working hard in training, I can show what I can do and hopefully I can start next time.”

Working hard and trying her best is something the Dubliner talks about quite a lot, whether it be regarding her Women’s National League [WNL] exploits with Shels, or coming up against some of the best players in the world.

International football is a serious step up, she admits, but it’s one she relishes.

“It’s unreal. It’s great experience. It’s a good challenge as well. The players within the squad give you the encouragement and help you out on the pitch, that’s what I need as well — that little bit of encouragement. The girls can give it to me and that’s good, that’s what they do.”

Having impressed in her first competitive outing against Greece in November 2019, playing the full 90 of the 1-1 Euro qualifier draw in Athens, it was expected Whelan would kick on. But progress has been slower.

“I mean, I think at Greece I did try my best and I did slip off it a bit then. I didn’t have a good spell after that. I was injured for a bit and then obviously Covid hit as well, so I think I just had to work hard, needed more strength, more opportunities on the pitch and more game time.

“It’s shown now that I have game time on the pitch and the start of the season has been quite good. I’m showing her that I’m well able to be in the squad. I think I’m on my way back up, I’m just giving my all, so hopefully I can get in a few squads.”

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She’s very firmly in this one anyway –  alongside fellow rising star, Ellen Molloy of Wexford Youths, that injection of young talent giving the team a “different dynamic,” while offering them invaluable experience — surely with a pep in their step after showing serious potential against the Great Danes.

The message in the huddle afterwards?  “We were just saying that we aren’t at our best at the moment, we’re working up to it and soon we will be able to beat high up teams.”

It’s about taking the positives from the second half in particular, and continuing to put it up to top teams. They get another chance to do that this evening against the Belgians, who are are ranked 17th in the world, three spots below Denmark — who Pauw argues should be higher — and 14 above Ireland.

“I’m looking forward to that match as well,” Whelan concludes. “Hopefully we can show them what we’re made of. All these games that we have are for the qualifiers and we’re just building up to become the best team. And in order to do well in qualifiers, we need these competitive games.

“I wouldn’t even call them friendlies, they’re all challenges, they’re all competitive. Working in these is where we can test things out, do trial and error, but when it comes to the qualifiers, that’s where we need to put in the action.”

Pauw will ring the changes for the second part of the double-header, with Courtney Brosnan set to replace Grace Moloney in goals. Niamh Farrelly and Marie Hourihan were both ruled out and haven’t travelled, while Megan Connolly is also an injury doubt.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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