In the media room at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, former international Keith Andrews found himself sitting just a short pass away from a painful memory: a display cabinet containing Xavi’s Number 8 jersey as well as the match ball from that long night in Gdansk when Spain put four past Ireland at Euro 2012.
When the original draw had placed Giovanni Trapattoni’s team in a group with the then reigning world and European Champions, one wag proclaimed: “Well, that will settle the Xavi-Glenn Whelan debate once and for all.”
If the humour in that remark was affectionate, other criticism of Andrews’ one-time midfield partner has been of a very different, even savage, order, not least the recurring blasts Whelan has received from Eamon Dunphy who once declared: “He’s a terrible player. He can’t run, he can’t pass, he can’t tackle, he doesn’t see anything. He drives two Ferraris: I think he’s a very lucky lad to have 50 caps for Ireland.”
That outburst in 2013 produced a rare public response from the player, who branded Dunphy a “media bully” and suggested he might like to come down to training and speak to him face to face. Other than that, Whelan has largely maintained an Irish media silence ever since.
“It’s not nice,” says Andrews of being on the receiving end of such hostility. “I’m sure it’s more for how his family feels: that’s what used to affect me when I was getting stick off fans or media. Thankfully, it never happened me for Ireland, but at club level I just didn’t want my family going to the game. Can you imagine if that happened with Ireland? That would have broken my heart. If you are playing for your country, that’s the be all and end all.
“It never affected him (in the dressing room). But, privately, amongst close friends and family, he would have spoken about it. It maybe motivated him to kick on and stick two fingers up to everybody. I know it certainly would have for me. I think it is sad because he’s been that good a servant for us, he deserves a little bit more respect than he’s been getting.”
For his part, the 33-year-old Whelan has simply continued to let his feet do the talking, his contributions to club and country still clearly valued by the people in the game whose opinions count for most – his managers and fellow players.
“You look at him at Stoke,” Andrews points out. “Time and time again the manager is picking him. You look at him seeing off their record signing (Giannelli) Imbula who cost £18m. Steven N’Zonzi comes in a few years ago and he ends up playing with him. Mark Hughes might change it sometimes in terms of leaving Glenn out to see how other personnel will get on but he always goes back in because he knows he can trust him.
“He’s a lot freer when he plays for Stoke. You can see it in terms of what he does on the ball, the type of passes he goes for. (For Ireland), positionally he brings security in front of that back four. If we’re playing with Seamus (Coleman) and Stephen Ward both going, he screens that back four very well and he’s very reliable in possession.”
So does Keith understand why Glenn has attracted criticism? “Yeah, it’s his demeanour. People go on about the lack of pace - the goal against Belgium - and sometimes his lack of pace does get highlighted at the top, top level. But, you know, you could pick on anyone’s weaknesses. He’s not going to get any quicker now. He’s a trusted lieutenant who has very rarely let us down over the years.
“It would have been really sad if he and John O’Shea left after the Euros. It says a lot about their characters and personalities that they didn’t and they were willing to be squad players. If everyone’s fit, they’re not going to start, I think that’s fair to say, but they’ll certainly be involved in the rest of the qualifiers. With John this year, in terms of being out of contract, his next club move will be with one eye on playing at a competitive level to be in good shape for the World Cup - and hopefully we’ll be there.”
Keith Andrews was speaking at the SPAR FAI Primary Schools 5s National Finals at the Aviva Stadium.
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