'I rang him and asked if he had retired, and he said 'No I haven't''

Glenn Whelan is back in the Irish squad, along with Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy.

Glenn Whelan waves, eh, see you later to the Aviva crowd against Northern Ireland last November.
Glenn Whelan waves, eh, see you later to the Aviva crowd against Northern Ireland last November.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

YOU MAY BE tempted to call it one of the shortest retirements in Irish football, spanning as it did a single game – against Denmark, naturally enough – but as it turns out, it wasn’t a retirement at all. 

“I rang him and asked him if he had retired, and he said ‘No I haven’t'” said Mick McCarthy of his decision to include Glenn Whelan in his 38-man provisional squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.

“So whether he was retired as opposed to retiring himself, I don’t know.” 

It was the former.

Rather than Whelan making the call himself, it was Martin O’Neill’s, then plotting for a future in which he ultimately played no part. 

Thus he was given a send-off at the November friendly against Northern Ireland, but it is he, rather than O’Neill, who may be in line for a return to the Aviva at the end of the month. 

Whelan was persuaded to break an eight-year habit and speak to the media ahead of that putative final game, and said that “I’ve spoken to the manager, he knows if anything ever happens down the line, I will be available.” 

Now he’s spoken to the new manager and is in line for an 86th international cap. Whelan has been playing at Championship level with Aston Villa, and has started six of his side’s last eight games having been a bit-part player under Steve Bruce at the start of the season.

“He’s playing very well,” says McCarthy. “He is playing with Conor Hourihane as well so there’s a partnership there, so at least there is some understanding between them there. 

“I wonder about our squad of midfield players, about whether there is someone who can do a specific job as a sitter, and he certainly can.

Whether he ends up in the final squad remains to be seen, but I’ve been impressed with him.”

If Whelan has been recalled, surely McCarthy won’t cut him from the squad when it comes to narrowing it to a 23-man selection? 

I could. I might want him for a specific game at any stage, and knowing that he hasn’t been forgotten about and is still thought about as a player who can do a job in the national team, he’d be pleased with that I would have thought.”

There are some more returning faces. Aiden McGeady, who last played for Ireland in the 5-1 battering against Denmark in 2017, is back following a fine run of form with Sunderland in League One, for whom he has 10 goals and five assists in 27 games this season.

Aiden McGeady with Szymon Marciniak Aiden McGeady on his last appearance for Ireland, against Denmark in Dublin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

James McCarthy is back too, having missed all of 2018 with a broken leg. Although he has returned to fitness, the midfielder is yet to make a senior appearance for Everton this season, which is of concern to the Irish manager. 

“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times. I hoped he would go on loan at Christmas, but they didn’t let him go for whatever reason. He’s not started a game for a long time.

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“He is one of our best midfielders, but if the best midfielders don’t play, they’re not the best midfielders. They are the ones who play games, and are battle-hardened.”

Striker David McGoldrick returns having been frozen out toward the end of O’Neill’s reign, as is goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and defender Stephen Ward. 

One man who has not returned is Daryl Murphy. The striker retired from Irish duty at the end of 2017, and despite McCarthy’s hopes that he would reverse the decision, he has yet to do so.

“He told me he’s retired. He’s at an age at which he likes having that time off when the international breaks come as it will benefit his club career, but I did say that ‘If I need you, and if I call you’, and the final answer was ‘I’ll see’. 

“So it wasn’t a no.” 

The full Irish squad is available here

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Gavin Cooney

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