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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 25 October 2020

Millwall scout said Wes Hoolahan was 'too small'

The former-Shelbourne-player-turned-Ireland-hero has spent a large portion of his career in the lower leagues

Wes Hoolahan celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Euro 2016 Group E soccer match between Ireland and Sweden.
Wes Hoolahan celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Euro 2016 Group E soccer match between Ireland and Sweden.
Image: Francois Mori

PEOPLE WERE FULL of praise for Wes Hoolahan after a man-of-the-match performance against Sweden today.

Hoolahan also became just the fourth Irish player ever to score at the Euros amid a 1-1 draw with the Swedes, joining a prestigious list that also includes Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan and Sean St Ledger.

At 34, it has taken Hoolahan a long time to get to this level. Having been largely ignored by previous Ireland managers, the Dubliner has gradually forced his way into Martin O’Neill’s plans, and the manager was rewarded earlier as the Norwich midfielder produced an influential display to help the Boys in Green earn a point in their Euro 2016 opener.

However, O’Neill is not the only manager to have at one stage or another been uncertain about Hoolahan, who was initially not a regular starter at the outset of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

The former Shelbourne player has spent a large portion of his career in the lower leagues, also having stints at Livingston and Blackpool, and it seems that only now is his talent finally being fully recognised.

Yet Hoolahan appears to be a victim of misguided perceptions at times. After the Sweden game, John Giles spoke today on RTÉ of how he recommended him to a Premier League club during his Shelbourne days, but the suggestion was dismissed as the future Ireland international was deemed “too small”.

Speaking in the aftermath of the Sweden game on RTÉ Radio One, Richie Sadlier had a similar story:

When I retired in 2003 I worked with a sports agency and one of their clients was Wes. We were trying to get him out of Shelbourne because we were thinking ‘this fella has a lot of talent,’ the former-footballer-turned-pundit recalled.

“Then I started working with Milwall academy… I brought the chief scout across specifically to watch him and they dismissed him with ‘ah he’s too small’ — the usual thing people used to dismiss him way back.

As we all know he hasn’t really featured in the Irish senior team over the years for various reasons and all the time we thought there was a place for him. So, for a moment like that to happen for him it just seemed like absolutely the right thing to happen.”

Sadlier was also somewhat critical of Martin O’Neill’s decision to substitute Hoolahan late on and replace him with Robbie Keane during Ireland’s Euro 2016 opener.

“The change that was made, if you are to accept that Wes has to come off and that it was a sensible decision, bringing Robbie on, I think he touched the ball once or twice,” he explained.

We know the type of player Robbie is and his limitation in the last few years. We know the type of game that Robbie is well suited to and it’s always a conversation about the impact he can have in the latter stages of the game.

“This wasn’t a game that we were pounding Sweden in the box, it was ricocheting everywhere and it was screaming out for someone with Robbie’s instincts, his movement. It wasn’t that type of game.”

Speaking after the match, Hoolahan admitted that a calf problem he was suffering from was part of the reason for Martin O’Neill’s decision to take him off, although he added that he should be fine to play in the upcoming clash with Belgium on Saturday.

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Brady: It’s a shame for Irish football that Wes hasn’t played more. He’s a class act>

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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