Football

Wes Hoolahan's International Career Leaves Us With Little But "What Ifs"

Wes Hoolahan's International Career Leaves Us With Little But "What Ifs"

By the time Ireland play their next competitive fixture, Wes Hoolahan will be 36 years of age and have almost certainly called a halt on his conflicting, confusing and deeply unsatisfying international career.

Having played less than half the number of internationals than Glenn Whelan, a player almost 3 years his junior and the antithesis of Hoolahan's type, the general reluctance of Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O'Neil to make him a part of their teams, and the debates that followed, are the making of his occasionally brilliant, often speculative international existence.

Although the dust has not yet settled on tonight's disheartening defeat, Ireland will now be temporarily bereft of an alluring other in the shape of Hoolahan.

While results have often shrouded the difficulty of actually watching Ireland strive and struggle to attain them, the promise of what Ireland could be rested with the enigmatic man from Norwich City. It was a necessary delusion perhaps; a wish to believe that Dunphy, Giles and Brady had been right all along.

In his absence, the scrutiny on style could become unbearable.

On the face of it, both Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O'Neill exceeded the objective expectations one would assign to a country of Ireland's footballing stature - Ireland's standing as 4th seed in Group D makes their 2nd place finish a triumph.

However, as tonight's result exemplifies, and the 6-1 defeat to Germany under Trapattoni similarly signaled; there are severe limitations to what such a rigorous adherence to a limited style can achieve if the foundations upon which they are built begins to crack.

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In essence, this could be the very reason Hoolahan's appearances have been so sporadic.

Scarcely a slight against his ability, Ireland could simply be said - especially the squad O'Neill operates with - not to possess the necessary accouterments a player like Hoolahan needs by way of teammates.

This arguably is Hoolhan's greatest misfortune. Perceived as a luxury, or a player who could suitably confound the expectations of a complacent opponent, his Irish career will be looked back upon as a series of 'what ifs?'

And yet, having only reached the Premier League at 29 years of age with Norwich City, have we been misguided in our assessment of his abilities?

Comparatively, players like Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean and indeed Whelan himself, have a wealth of top-flight experience that Hoolahan only experienced in his later years.

If, in fact, his talents have been underused in an Irish jersey, are England's Premier League clubs as culpable, naive in their judgement of him?

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In the age of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, Hoolahan's contemporaries, there was little or no mention of a player still plying his trade in the League of Ireland when Duff was becoming a Premier League winner, and Keane had already hit over 50 of his 126 goals in the same competition.

Yet, Hoolahan was not a player for that age; he was a player we needed now.

If indeed Hoolahan's surpassing of his teammates in terms of ability stifled his international presence in later years, why it was decided that Ireland should settle for second-best, as opposed to striving to accommodate Hoolahan's talents, will continue to baffle.

For now, Ireland's most talked about footballer since perhaps Roy Keane will likely disappear as quietly and unassumingly as he arrived.

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In the European Championships of 2016, his goal against Sweden and perfectly-timed assist against Italy signified the greatest moments of a tournament that seemed to promise so much for Ireland going forward.

Although in different circumstances, with different priorities to the fore of Irish football, 'Wes' could stand along other Irish centurions like Keane, Duff or Kilbane. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Irish football is likely to be the worse for the conditions that saw Hoolahan falter.

See Also: We Just Don't Have The Players And We Need To Address Why

Arthur James O'Dea

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