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'The phone hasn't stopped. There are people coming from everywhere. My little lad is going to be mascot'

Glenn Whelan is set to make his final Ireland appearance on Thursday.

Glenn Whelan pictured at today's press conference.
Glenn Whelan pictured at today's press conference.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Abbotstown

GLENN WHELAN MADE a rare media appearance today, as the Ireland midfielder prepares for the end of his international career.

The 34-year-old Aston Villa player will earn his 85th cap against Northern Ireland. While saying he would always be available for the national team if needed, he acknowledged Thursday’s game was likely to be his last in a green jersey.

Whelan has generally tended to avoid speaking in front of the media in recent years, but was asked by Martin O’Neill to attend today’s press conference as he prepares to lead out the Irish team tomorrow.

And the Irish manager was among those to pay tribute to the Dubliner.

“During my time, I thought that despite the fact that he is seemingly a pretty quiet lad in many aspects, I thought he led the team, he was captain of the side under me and had a really good time before that under Giovanni,” O’Neill said.

“In my five years, he’s missed out the last year [and was] getting on a wee bit in age. Honestly, he’s really been excellent. We’ve had the occasional difference of opinion. I’ve obviously been right as the manager, but overall, I’ve got great respect for him.”

Whelan, meanwhile, admits he will miss the thrill of lining out for his country on the international stage.

“Every time I’ve come in, I’ve tried to make the most of it,” he says.

“Not being here for the last 12 months, you miss your time with the lads. I’ve loved every time I’ve played and [am] really appreciative of being able to come in for the game on Thursday.

“To get 85 caps, if you’d given me one, I would have taken your hand [off for it]. The older I’ve got, the more appreciative I am of coming in and playing.”

The player’s family are set to attend the game amid what is likely to be an emotional occasion, a little over 10 years on from making his senior international debut under Giovanni Trapattoni against Serbia.

The phone hasn’t stopped,” he says. “There are people coming from everywhere. My little lad is going to be mascot. He was mascot before but he was only two or three. Even when we speak to him about that, he doesn’t remember. He’s been getting his football boots ready and his new kit. It’s going to be an emotional time, but like I said, I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”

The former Stoke player was also quick to emphasise that he had not definitively retired from international football.

“I never picked to come and play for Ireland. I’ll never pick when I don’t want to play. He knows if anything happens, I will be available. I’ve done my coaching badges, but see myself as playing for as long as I can.

“Obviously the manager over the last 12 months or so has tried to bed new lads in and that’s the way Ireland are going. I’m more than happy with that — these lads have waited a long time and they need to get some caps under their belt. But for me, looking at the next couple of years, hopefully we do qualify. But I’d be 36 or 37, so I think that’s way off. Retirement, as in putting it down on paper, I’d never do that.

“To get one [cap] is obviously a great achievement for myself. I never thought I’d get 85. You speak to any player who comes in and it’s a massive achievement to play international football.”

Martin O'Neill Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has been among those to pay tribute to Whelan. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

For years, Whelan was a mainstay of the Irish team under Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill, with his performances helping the Boys in Green qualify for two major tournaments in the process.

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More recently, however, the veteran star has been out of the team, with younger players coming through, and Whelan understands why O’Neill has opted to leave him out more often than not in this period.

“It’s been difficult. The results haven’t been right, but you can see with the players who have come in, there are lads with a lot of experience who have dropped out. It takes a bit of time.

I can see what the manager is trying to do. It’s not going to sort itself out overnight. Results have been a little bit difficult, but when have Ireland ever made it easy?”

O’Neill added that the team had missed Whelan’s influence in recent matches and felt the player has been underappreciated in certain quarters during his career with the Boys in Green.

“He goes about his job in a manner, not the most demonstrative way, but the thing I’ve liked about him is that he’s never shirked the responsibility when things aren’t going so well.

“He’s always there to receive the ball or get the ball. He’s never hidden in the time I was there, even in poor games, that would be the case. That’s why he has earned the respect not only of myself and Roy Keane, but any manager he has worked under.”

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Paul Fennessy

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