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Wes Hoolahan on his 'Dad' Eamon Dunphy and the selection controversy in Poland

The Norwich and Ireland star is expected to feature against Bosnia tonight.

9 November 2015; Official water partner of FAI celebrate 15 years in business with (left to right) Wes Hoolahan, Liam Duffy, Business Development Manager / CFO Celtic Pure, Cyrus Christie, Padraig McEneaney, CEO Celtic Pure, and Harry Arter in National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin.
9 November 2015; Official water partner of FAI celebrate 15 years in business with (left to right) Wes Hoolahan, Liam Duffy, Business Development Manager / CFO Celtic Pure, Cyrus Christie, Padraig McEneaney, CEO Celtic Pure, and Harry Arter in National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin.
Image: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

WES HOOLAHAN BELIEVES an away goal could be crucial to Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification hopes, and the Boys in Green will certainly have a better chance of achieving that aim with the Norwich man on the pitch.

Widely regarded as Ireland’s most creative player, at 33, Hoolahan is arguably in the form of his life, as he currently sits just below David Silva and Mesut Ozil on the Premier League assists table.

Ireland will be hoping Hoolahan can build on this momentum if, as expected, he starts in the Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica tonight.

“We are going out there trying to score a goal,” he says. “It’s important that we get a good result and bring it back to the Aviva, and hopefully, with the crowd behind us, we’ll have a great chance.”

One of Bosnia’s key players will be their captain, Edin Dzeko, and Hoolahan does not have the best of memories from past games against the Roma striker during his Man City days.

“I played against him two or three years ago,” he recalls. “I think he scored two goals against us. Obviously, we’ll have to watch out for him.”

The Irish team will be hoping to emulate last month’s performance against Germany, in which they secured a stunning 1-0 victory against the world champions — an outcome Hoolahan attributes to a mixture of self-belief and meticulous pre-match preparation.

“Going into the game, you believe you can win every game or get a result. As the game went on and we went in at half-time 0-0, we sensed if we could get that one goal, we could win. Obviously, Shane popped up with a great goal and it was great that we got the win.

“In the week leading up to the game, we watched videos of them and their formation and set-pieces, so going into the game, we knew what we had to do to stop them. And we knew what we had to do when we had the ball.

“The Germany game was brilliant. It was a great win. We defended really well and with Bosnia, it will be kind of the same as with defending well, and hopefully we can score a few goals as well.”

Hoolahan was named man-of-the-match on that historic evening at the Aviva — an achievement all the more impressive given that he had been suffering from a heel injury in the lead up to the game.

“I don’t think I’d trained for a week, I’d only trained one day. I had a heel injury. So I didn’t train going into the Germany game and I didn’t train after the Germany game.

“It was tough mentally and physically playing the full game. It was a tough game. I enjoyed it.”

And is Hoolahan, who has made over 200 appearances for Norwich since joining them from Blackpool in 2008, confident of starting two games in quick succession this time around?

“Hopefully. We’ll see how the games pan out and see how it is.

“(I have) no concerns. I’ve come back here, trained today and will train all week. The last time I didn’t train at all. Hopefully, I’ll be alright.”

Source: Prateesh Timmy/YouTube

Martin O’Neill’s decision not to start Hoolahan for Ireland’s last qualifier against Poland caused controversy, with RTÉ pundit Eamon Dunphy particularly unimpressed, and suggesting that the Ireland boss didn’t fully trust his player.

However, Hoolahan confirms that he spoke to O’Neill before the game and indicated he wasn’t fully fit.

“Me and Martin had a discussion before the game. That’s the way it went.

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“I didn’t train all week, I’d a problem with my heel. I’d been taking painkillers. I spoke to Martin and Martin was fine.

“You don’t want to let the lads down — if you’re not fully fit, then you don’t want to go into a massive game. You want 11 players wanting to do well and all being fit.

“I’m sure Martin appreciated it. He was happy that I spoke to him.”

Hoolahan adds that it was “totally my call,” saying his club had no influence on the decision, but explaining that he felt comfortable enough to enter the action as a substitute.

“No, it was okay, coming on for the last 20 minutes, trying to get the goal to get us through to France. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there, but we have two big games coming up now and hopefully we’ve got a great chance of qualifying. If you said before the group that we had two games to qualify for the Euros, we’d take it.”

He says that he “didn’t know about” the furore that his non-selection caused, however, he is aware of the photo doing the rounds on social media of himself as a youngster receiving a prize from none other than Eamon Dunphy.

“Me love child is he?! I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about that.

“It was five-a-side in the Monto in Liberty House when I was about 12 or 13, and I got player of the tournament. Eamon was handing out the trophies. Or my Dad, I should say.”

Dunphy has been championing Hoolahan at senior level for years now, right back to when he was getting continually snubbed by previous Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni. Hoolahan says the Italian never explained to him why he was being omitted, but insists he took no issue with it and claims he was unaware of the clamour calling for the ex-Shels star to be in the team at the time.

“The lads that were in the group before that had done well, they deserved to go to the Euros. But that’s it, you try to keep playing well for your club and if you get a call, you come and it’s a great achievement.”

Similarly, it was only in the later parts of his career that Hoolahan began to hit his current heights and reach the promised land of the Premier League, and he is unsure as to why this was the case, playing down suggestions that he was underestimated owing to his relatively small stature.

“It’s just one of those things. I’ve probably got better as the years have gone on, playing in the Premier League week in, week out three years ago and then doing well last year in the Championship and then starting this year well, you know I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“Size doesn’t really matter you know, the best players in the world are probably smaller players — Messi, Carzola.

“You just keep working hard and do your bits on and off the pitch and hopefully you get your rewards.”

Hoolahan, who has a 100% record in play-off matches at club level, having triumphed with both Norwich and Blackpool in the past, says he hasn’t thought about whether he will continue to play for Ireland through the next World Cup campaign.

He watched the Boys in Green at the last European Championships from a villa in Spain and also remembers Ireland’s most notorious play-off match, when Thierry Henry gave France a helping hand at the expense of Trapattoni’s side in 2009.

“I think I was at home when I watched that. I remember Gary Doherty, who went over to Norwich, went over to watch the game and he came back and he was gutted that we were robbed more or less.”

This time, though, Hoolahan is hopeful that the outcome will be different.

“It would be great. You know I haven’t gone with Ireland to a major tournament so it would be the icing on the cake to qualify and go to France.”

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Paul Fennessy

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