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8 June 2016

Will our man shine in France?

Name: Wes Hoolahan
Age: 34
Nation: Republic of Ireland

Road to the Euros

Wes Hoolahan ran the show in his first appearance during Ireland's qualifying campaign, their 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar in October 2014.

Robbie Keane, who fired a hat-trick, had his first two goals laid on by the City playmaker before Hoolahan got himself on the scoresheet when he walked in the team's seventh in the second half.

The 34-year-old's next start came in the 1-1 draw with Poland the following March when he turned provider once again, this time for Shane Long's last minute leveller.

Hoolahan kept his place in the eleven for Ireland's next four qualifiers, the highlight of which was their famous toppling of world champions Germany in Dublin last October.

When it came down to the play-off against Bosnia, Martin O'Neill elected to start him in the away leg that Ireland drew 1-1 thanks to a goal from Hoolahan's City teammate Robbie Brady.

They then booked their place at the finals with a 2-0 victory at the Aviva Stadium, meaning Hoolahan will play at a major tournament for the first time after missing out on Ireland's squad for Euro 2012.


Q&A - Daniel McDonnell, Irish Independent Football Correspondent (@McDonnellDan)

Q: How pleasing will it be for Ireland fans to see Wes Hoolahan play at a major tournament?

Very pleasing. It's still a major regret that he wasn't a part of Euro 2012 when he was arguably at the peak of his powers.

Q: Describe Wes’ popularity and his relationship with the Ireland supporters.

Wes is hugely popular, particularly with the Irish football fans who support the local League of Ireland. Before he broke onto the scene there with Shelbourne, Wes already had a fanbase from his childhood club Belvedere that used to go and watch him every week because he was so entertaining. It was the same when he played with Shels, where his managers, teammates and regular watchers wondered why it was taking him so long to get the attention from overseas that he deserved. Even when he moved across the water it was a slow burn, with people reluctant to take a chance on him because of his size. It seems ludicrous now. There's a natural affection for Wes which can be traced back to that. The later converts to Wes realise that Ireland are a better side to watch when he plays.

Q: How do you think Martin O’Neill will use Wes in France?

This is an interesting question as there is a possibility that he might not start every game, a decision that would generate quite a bit of discussion back home. Ireland's second match is against Belgium and it's possible that he could look for younger legs in the middle of the park with an emphasis on working without the ball. In fact, Robbie Brady could nearly end up in there. Personally, I'd have Wes in for all three games, yet there's a niggling feeling that he might be restricted to two starts. He has to play against Sweden.

Q: Why do you think it took until O’Neill to be in charge for Wes to get a consistent run in the Ireland set-up?

There's a simple enough answer for that - Giovanni Trapattoni was the manager from 2008 to 2013. He had a vision about how he wanted Ireland to play and Wes didn't fit into it. Trapattoni was stubborn and refused to admit that he was wrong although, strangely, he did use Wes towards the end of his time in charge when it became a huge stick to beat him with. You can't lay the full blame at his door, though. Wes was first brought away with an Ireland senior squad in 2002. Even if he was playing at a lower level, the managers before Trapattoni should have invited him in at some stage to see how he coped in that company. With his technical ability, he would have slotted straight in and it might have accelerated his rise to the highest level. He didn't look out of place in a Champions League tie with Deportivo La Coruna in 2004.


Where and when?

Ireland's opening match is on Monday, June 13 against Martin Olsson's Sweden at the Stade de France in Paris (5pm UK).

Results in further Group E games against Belgium (Saturday, June 18 in Bordeaux) and Italy (Wednesday, June 22 in Lille) will determine whether they progress through to the last 16.

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