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'It could be the last big night for me, and I'm going to cherish and enjoy it as much as I can'

Glenn Whelan is aware tonight’s clash with Denmark is among the last of his big games in an Irish shirt.

Glenn Whelan speaks to the media.
Glenn Whelan speaks to the media.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND AGAINST DENMARK may feel like the kind of football rivalry that stretches on for all eternity, but Glenn Whelan doesn’t see it that way.

“It could be the last big night for me”, he told the media ahead of tonight’s effective Euro 2020 play-off with the Danes, “and I’m going to cherish it and enjoy it as much as I can, even though it’s a big game.” 

This campaign has even come after the supposed end for Whelan. Martin O’Neill made it clear just over a year ago that he no longer considered the 35-year-old midfielder as part of the Irish set-up going forward, and was thus given a supposedly farewell friendly appearance against Northern Ireland. 

O’Neill, though, would last only one more game – yeah, it was against Denmark, obviously – and among Mick McCarthy’s first calls was to invite Whelan back into the squad. 

“This is a second bite at the cherry as it is. It was taken away from me: I was never going to play for my country again and now, please God, I’ll get picked tomorrow to play in possibly one of the biggest games that Ireland have played in.

For me I’m going to cherish it, take it on board, although it’s nerve-wracking and it’ll be tight, I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can. We keep saying it but this is what we want, this is why we’re here. This is why we rock up for friendlies when you could be on the beach having four or five days off. This is why you play for your country to play in these games. There are kids out there who are dreaming of playing for Ireland.

“I was like that at one stage.” 

Ireland must beat Denmark tonight to qualify for Euro 2020, although they will have the fall-back of the Nations League play-offs in March if they fall short tonight. 

In the five previous games the two sides have played since the first leg of the World Cup play-off two years ago, Ireland have drawn four and lost one, which was the secon- ah, you know what it was. 

“We’ve worked really hard this week”, says Whelan. “We’ve played Denmark quite a bit over the last few years so we know what they’re all about. It’s not just [Christian] Eriksen we need to be careful about, they have quite a few good players.

“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s about what we can do, and they can worry about us more than we worry about them.

“We’re at home and we need to go out there with real passion and real fight to qualify.” 

On those latter topics, Roy Keane’s ‘tackle’ on Marc Overmars in the opening few minutes of Ireland’s win over Holland in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup gets a mention from the press. Could a tackle set the tone tonight? 

“I think a tackle could do it. If you get a good tackle, a hard tackle, that will get the lads going and gets the fans going.

“If it’s a goal, a defensive tackle, something like that, anything we can use to get everyone going and getting up to speed quite quickly we’ll use, because we’re going to need everyone on top form, the team that plays and then the three lads who can come off the bench as well, because it’s going to be a tough night.

“It’s not going to be easy and, please God, Denmark know that as well that they’re coming here for a tough game and a hard game.”

Given Ireland’s familiarity with tonight’s opponents, are Ireland capable of springing any surprises? 

“We can surprise them…Big Duffy is playing up front tomorrow! No, listen, I think both nations are probably getting a little bit sick of each other.

“Obviously we’ve played them five times and we haven’t got the win. That’s our motivation, there we go, he’s brought it up, let’s use that.

“We haven’t beaten them in five games or whatever it is so why not tomorrow night? We’ll be using everything we can. The 5-1 defeat, not beating them, whatever it may be.

“No one gave us a chance to be here and we’re one game away from qualifying, so we need to use that.” 

There is time only to deliver. 

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Gavin Cooney

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