Move over baby, there’s a new super Wessi fan in town.
Unless you’ve been living under a stone for the best part of the last decade you’ll be aware that Eamon Dunphy is a big fan of Ireland playmaker Wes Hoolahan. The RTÉ pundit is not alone in that but few pundits are quite so strident in their assessment of Hoolahan’s gifts.
There is, however, a new addition to the Hoolahan fan club and happily for the veteran playmaker his new admirer is none other than recently appointed Norwich manager Daniel Farke.
That’s a happy coincidence that bodes well for player, club, and country.
“Wes is a wonderful person, a wonderful guy,” Farke says after watching Hoolahan play the opening 45 minutes of Norwich’s 5-0 friendly win over Cobh Ramblers at St Colman’s Park on Wednesday night.
“He only arrived (at Fota Island for pre-season training) on Monday because in the after-season he had to do some work with the national squad. When he arrived, he was laughing and smiling from the first moment.
“He’s such a gentle guy and he’s a brilliant technical player. He’s able to create moments, to find solutions, to be creative, and to play key passes. He’s able to score, he’s able to assist — he’s quite a good player. I really believe he will be pretty important to us for the whole season.”
The only problem for Farke as he plots a route from the Championship to the Premier League is Hoolahan’s date of birth. He concedes the 35-year-old will have to be handled with care.
“It would be nice if he was 26 because then there would be 10 years at the job in front of him,” says Farke.
“I know he’s a pretty experienced guy and we have to be very careful with the physical condition of players who are getting older.
“I’m pretty sure he’s not able to play 46 Championship games, plus FA Cup games, plus League Cup games for 90 minutes but he’s in pretty good condition and I really like working with him. It’s much fun as he’s a pretty special player.
“I’m really content that he’s in our squad.”
Farke’s high opinion for Hoolahan is reciprocated by the player.
“The gaffer’s come in and straight way we’re playing football, we’re on the ball,” says Hoolahan. “He likes us to press well and move the ball well and so far it’s been a great pre-season.
“He wants to play football. He’s coming from a good background of passing the ball, moving the ball well. Just working with him the past few days, it’s been really enjoyable the way he wants us to play.”
Relegated from the Premier League in the 2015/16 season, there was an expectation that Norwich would bounce straight to the top flight last season. They didn’t, finishing eighth, 10 points off a play-off spot.
Unsurprisingly, Hoolahan hopes the Canaries can make amends next season.
“We’re looking to promotion, to hopefully get in the top six — that’s our aim, that’s what we want to achieve,” he says.
“Hopefully, with a few more additions, and new players coming in, we’ll have a great chance. We’re looking forward to it.”
There are, of course, international ambitions too. Hoolahan has yet to experience a World Cup finals and given his age, Russia next year represents his final chance.
With four games of the qualifying process left, Ireland are second to Serbia on goal difference with 12 points, with Wales and Austria four points adrift.
Hoolahan is cautiously optimistic Ireland can make it to the World Cup party for the first time since 2002.
“We’ve got four big games coming up. Hopefully we can push on and get the results we need to qualify for the World Cup. We’ve got tough games but we’re looking forward to it.”
The first of that quartet of games is a trip to Georgia on September 2 before Serbia visit the Aviva Stadium three days later.
The Serbia game will obviously be key but Georgia have proven sticky opponents in the past and will, Hoolahan accepts, need to be approached with care.
“They’re a tricky team to play against. We know it’s going to be tough but they’re four massive games and we won’t take any team lightly.”
Ireland don’t tend to do things the easy way so the probability is it will all come down to the final game, a trip to Wales on October 9.
That game, it emerged this week, will now be held at the Cardiff City Stadium and not the Principality Stadium, a decision that means 40,000 fewer fans will be able to attend the game.
Hoolahan, however, doesn’t expect the switch in venue to have any impact on how the Ireland team will perform.
“I don’t think it makes a difference,” he insists. “It will affect the fans but we’ll go there with the same mentality, trying to get a win that we’ll probably need. It’s probably going to go to the last game and hopefully we can do it.”
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