GLENN WHELAN is hoping to repay the club who gave him his break in English football by extending their run without a major trophy to 36 years.
The tenacious midfielder moved across the Irish Sea as a 15-year-old to sign youth forms for Manchester City after a series of trials.
Twelve years on, Whelan is preparing to face City in tomorrow’s FA Cup final at Wembley in arguably the biggest game in Stoke’s history.
The 27-year-old played in City’s youth team with the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland.
Whelan, though, made only one first-team appearance, in a UEFA Cup qualifier against Welsh side TNS, before joining Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer in 2004.
The midfielder said: “Kevin Keegan was manager at the time. I’d been out on loan and there was interest from a couple of clubs about taking me.
“To be fair, Kevin Keegan was honest. He came to me and said, ‘Listen, I don’t think you’re going to play in the first team, you should sit down and speak to people’.
“Luckily for me, Sheffield Wednesday was one of the clubs. It was probably the best thing to happen to me.”
At Wednesday, Whelan was not just a first-team regular but a standout performer, establishing himself as a central cog with an eye for goal.
In January 2008, Stoke forked out £500,000 for the midfielder and six months later he found himself in the Premier League.
Whelan has had to bide his time, frequently starting games on the bench, but he has taken his chance after winning back his place in February.
The Dubliner insists there are no hard feelings with City, saying: “Not at all. I’d to thank everyone there because they made me the player I am now.
“I possibly could have stayed and played in the reserves for another year but who’s to say those chances would have come round again? I’m glad where I am now and I thank everyone who’s helped me along the way.”
Stoke may be underdogs tomorrow but they have good memories of Wembley after thrashing Bolton 5-0 in the semi-finals to reach their first FA Cup showpiece.
It is a result and a performance Whelan hopes will go some way to shaking off Stoke’s negative image.
He added: “I don’t think anyone could have imagined winning 5-0 but on the day everything clicked for us. People talked about Bolton not having turned up but I think if they had turned up there was still only going to be one winner.
“Not many people have won 5-0 at Wembley and if you’re only a long-ball team you couldn’t do that. Hopefully we’ve changed a few people’s minds but if we haven’t then just keep going about our business.”
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