Martin O’Neill, the only man whose opinion counts, hasn’t said yea or nay to whether there will be a starting place for him in the team but, encouragingly, spoke again this week about how he is the kind of player who can do damage “between the lines” with a trademark piece of invention or surgical pass.
As usual, the man at the centre of it all, Wes Hoolahan, prefers to let his feet do most of the talking, and the hope amongst his many fans will be that he’s at his eloquent best as Ireland seek to reboot their qualifying campaign at the weekend.
The good news is he is declaring himself fit and ready to play, after his club Norwich had expressed concern about a niggling knee tendon problem.
“It’s good, it feels alright,” he reports. “It’s a micro-tear but it’s been fine for the last couple of weeks. I’m fit enough anyway because, although most of the lads haven’t played in five weeks, it’s been only two weeks since my last game for Norwich. They (the club) were okay. They were just saying that, because I hadn’t been training for the last couple of weeks, to make sure that I looked after it. But it’s been fine and obviously I wanted to come in.”
He has come in, of course, on the back of the best of possible season endings for Norwich, the Canaries returning to the Premier League after seeing off Middlesbrough in the Championship play-off final.
“It was brilliant, a great day,” says the former Shelbourne man. “I’ve gone up before in second place but to do it that way, by winning though the play-off semi-finals and the final, beats that.”
Might he have felt he was running out of time for another taste of the top-flight?
“Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m getting on but I’m 33 so you are thinking ‘maybe this is my last chance to get back into the Premier League’. So I gave it my all to get back there and give it another shot.”
With mission accomplished at club level, the man the Norwich faithful call ‘Wessi’ is now entirely focused on Ireland’s bid to cancel out last November’s 1-0 defeat in Scotland, a game he missed through injury.
“I watched it at home,” he recalls. “We were a bit unlucky, it looked like it was heading for a draw which would have been a good result and then they scored from a set-piece and that was that, there was no getting back from that.”
With Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan and Shay Given also absent that night but available now, Hoolahan believes the home side are in much better shape going into the return game.
“There is a massive difference between now and six months ago,” he opines. “Most of the players are back fit and to have the likes of James (McCarthy) and Whelo (Glenn Whelan) — who play week-in, week-out in the Premier League back available — can only be good for us.
“It’s a massively important game. We’re at home and we need to take it to them, to win the game, to go above them in the table and put ourselves in a strong position for the rest of the campaign. We got a great result (against England) which shows we can play well against good teams so there is nothing to fear against Scotland.”
With Scottish players Russell Martin and Stephen Whittaker at Carrow Road, the build-up to Saturday has been a protracted one for Hoolahan.
“This has been a game we’ve been talking about for a while,” he says. “I didn’t get to play against them in Glasgow in November so it would be good to get the opportunity this time around. They are both good players. Obviously they are confident of getting a result and going on to qualify but that’s our aim too. It would be good to play against them and then catch up for a drink afterwards.”
Another Scot at Norwich, Graham Dorrans, has not made it into Gordon Strachan’s squad but he and Hoolahan previously soldiered together at Livingston a good eight years ago, an experience which seems a world away to the Dubliner now.
“Yeah, you don’t really think about international football when you’re at a team at the bottom of the SPL.”
But now he’s thinking about nothing else as Ireland and Scotland prepare for authentic battle after the phoney war against England.
“It’s a Saturday evening kick-off with what should be a full house roaring us on,” Wes Hoolahan says.
“It’s a competitive game so there will be much more of an edge to it. And I’m sure we can give a good account of ourselves.”