Corey Whelan was raised in ‘the Liverpool way’. But the 20-year-old has had to learn to handle himself whatever way it comes at on-loan club Yeovil Town and from opposition players on the muddy pitches commonplace across League Two venues.
So far, so good for the defender who declared for Ireland at 16 through his grandparents born in Armagh. He should make his latest U21 appearance against Iceland at Tallaght Stadium tonight (7.30pm), fresh from starts in the five Euro qualifiers of the current campaign.
In his profile on the Liverpool website, Whelan describes himself as ‘funny’, and he has needed to see the funny side at times, developing a thick skin as his fledgeling career develops.
“The dressing room can become a lonely place for a young player if you don’t have a personality,” Whelan says.
“It’s the same on the pitch. I see it as give and take; you need to have tough skin and be able to give it back.
“It’s something I’ve learned from my time at Liverpool. We are always having the craic there because you’re mixing with the older and more experienced players.”
Before he moved to Dorset in January for his first-ever loan spell, Whelan would have had plenty of interaction with Steven Gerrard.
Like the Reds legend, the Chester-born full-back joined the club before he’s even entered his teens.
Gerrard only this season assumed the role of U18 team coach and Whelan could be operating under him next term if, as expected, the former captain is promoted to the U23 role.
“He’s the ideal man for us to look up to,” said the Academy graduate, who only signed his latest contract extension in December.
“Having Stevie around the club is brilliant, he’s so easy to talk with even in the canteen, and we all want to go where he went.”
For Whelan, the desire to become part of Jurgen Klopp’s first-team remains as strong now as when he joined the club from Crewe Alexandra eight years ago.
He’s already got to train with the squad on a few occasions, the only downside being the limited scope it provides to make an impression.
“We usually get brought in when the first team is preparing a particular game-plan, so there’s a difficulty in expressing yourself,” he admitted.
“Still, the manager has brought youngsters into his squad and team.
“I’ve got to see another side of the game in recent weeks, playing matches in League Two that are sometimes dogfights, and we’ll see whether the club want to send me on loan again next season.”
Playing regularly for Ireland can only help his cause. Liverpool’s first team, once a haven for Irish players, could do with a green hue and another Whelan is closest to a breakthrough.
IRELAND (probable): L Bossin (Notts Forest); C Whelan (Yeovil Town), R Delaney (Burton Albion), R Sweeney (Bristol Rovers), D Kane (Cork City); J Cullen (West Ham), J Doyle-Hayes (Aston Villa); J Mulraney (Inverness), R Manning (QPR), R Curtis (Derry City); Ronan Hale (Derry City).
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