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'It's a privilege to come back and put the jersey on' - Whelan's Second Coming

After being corralled into international retirement, Glenn Whelan proved his worth last night against Georgia.

FOR GLENN WHELAN, the sense of satisfaction from his important contribution to the Republic of Ireland’s win over Georgia was multiplied by the fact that it came just four months after he thought he’d worn the green jersey for the final time.

Despite never announcing an intention to step away from the set-up, Whelan was corralled into international retirement in November by previous manager Martin O’Neill, who designated the friendly against Northern Ireland as his farewell.

Glenn Whelan acknowledges the fans after the game Glenn Whelan salutes the Ireland supporters after the win against Georgia. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Whelan led the team out as captain at the Aviva Stadium, before seemingly waving goodbye to Ireland supporters as he was replaced by Conor Hourihane in the 36th minute of the goalless draw.

Nevertheless, the 35-year-old was back at the Dublin 4 venue last night, producing a fine display in the middle of the park in the 1-0 victory against the Georgians. Like the man who paved the way for his return, it was a Second Coming for the Aston Villa player.

After O’Neill was succeeded by Mick McCarthy in December, Whelan received a call from the new man in charge, who reckoned he still had a few more caps to add to the tally of 85. McCarthy’s decision was vindicated by his performance last night.

“I never retired,” Whelan said afterwards. “Obviously Martin O’Neill at the time was going about his thing and I understood that because I’m getting on in age. I’m very grateful to Martin and to then get the phone call from Mick to come back.

“I didn’t know where I was going to stand, whether it was just to be around the lads. But I’m pushing them. We’ve got a few lads coming through who need that little bit of experience so I can pass that on a little bit.”

He added: “It’s a privilege to come back and put the jersey on. In November I thought that was going to be the last time I’d ever do it. When I got the phone call to come back, there were no second questions. It was ‘get the tickets booked and I’m there’. I know where I stand. I know I’m getting on a little bit. If I come and do my part, I’m more than happy.”

Ireland v Georgia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland - 26 Mar 2019 Whelan challenges Georgia's Jaba Kankava. Source: Ben Ryan

Having played no part in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Gibraltar, Whelan was given the nod for the visit of Georgia. It was his first competitive start since the 1-1 draw with the same opposition in Tbilisi in September 2017.

Following a dismal 2018, back-to-back wins have lifted the mood by giving Ireland an encouraging start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. It resumes with a trip to Denmark on 7 June, followed by a home game against Gibraltar three days later. 

“The two games were banana skins a little bit,” said Whelan. “Gibraltar was a tough game with the conditions but it’s two wins, two clean sheets and it gives us something to build on.

“We’ll definitely come back in the summer with a little bit of confidence. The last 12 months have been a little bit difficult but hopefully we’ve got the fans back on side a little bit by giving them something to shout about.

“The new management crew have come in and given all the lads a bit of a gee-up. We’ve always gone out there to do our best. It’s not as if we don’t. We were going through a little bit of a sticky time. Hopefully we’ve turned a corner.”

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Paul Dollery

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