The curious case of Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan

How the Irish fared:

The curious case of Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan

He’s a player who divides opinion among the Irish public like few others.

Who is the real Wes Hoolahan?

Is he, as his supporters suggest, a playmaker capable of providing the touch of class that an Ireland team devoid of guile so desperately needs? Or is he simply an over-hyped Championship-based cause célèbre who, at 32, has seen his best days?

Martin O’Neill doesn’t seem to trust him away from home, with Hoolahan left to warm the bench in the 2-1 win over Georgia last August before getting a 15-minute cameo in Germany in October when he played a part in John O’Shea’s equaliser.

That lack of managerial faith has been a constant feature in Hoolahan’s career and worryingly shows no signings of abating this season.

On Saturday, he was left on the bench until the final quarter of Norwich’s clash with Brentford. The game was delicately poised at 1-1 but two minutes after Hoolahan’s introduction Brentford scored the winner.

It was the sixth time in the eight games since Hoolahan’s return from a two-month injury layoff that he came on as a sub.

His only start in that time came against Preston in the FA Cup at the start of January. The Canaries lost 2-0 and Hoolahan was replaced with 19 minutes remaining.

Such details do not represent a statistical anomaly. In the 24 games for which he was available for club and country this season, Hoolahan lasted the duration just twice. He was replaced in 13 games, came off the bench seven times and was an unused sub twice.

Last season’s picture is similar. Of the 45 times Hoolahan was available for selection, he started and finished just three games. He was replaced 16 times, came on as a sub nine and was unused 17 times.

In that period, Hoolahan has been managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, Noel King and O’Neill at international level and Chris Hughton, Neil Adams and Alex Neil at Norwich. That none of the six have been convinced suggests Hoolahan may not be the man to cure the ills of Irish football.

Meanwhile, with the FA Cup taking centre-stage, it was a pretty quiet week for the Irish. The story of the weekend was at Stamford Bridge, where a goal from Mark Yeates put the seal on a staggering 4-2 win for Bradford over Premier League leaders Chelsea.

Saturday was a day to savour for the Irish contingent at Shrewsbury as two goals from James Collins either side of a Liam Lawrence penalty gave Micky Mellon’s promotion-chasing outfit a 3-2 win over Stevenage.

Collins’ second goal of the day and 14th of the season came with just two minutes left and won him praise from his boss. “James absolutely deserved the winner, because he keeps going,” Mellon said.

Elsewhere, John-Joe O’Toole was among the goals as Northampton eased to a 3-0 win over Newport.

It was a less satisfying weekend for Barry Corr as he was sent off for two yellow cards — the first of which manager Phil Brown described as “very harsh” – in Southend’s 2-1 win at Portsmouth.

On Friday night, Adam Rooney netted for the 20th time this season but his stunning strike from 25 yards only earned title-chasing Aberdeen a point after a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership.

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