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8 November 2016

Ireland boss speaks exclusively to

REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has hailed Wes Hoolahan's latest Norwich City milestone, after the attacking midfielder made his 300th appearance for the club at the weekend.

Moving to Carrow Road from Blackpool in the summer of 2008, City's longest-serving current player has been involved in three promotions during his time in Norfolk, becoming a firm fans' favourite in the process.

Speaking exclusively to before the game at home to Leeds United, O'Neill said: "To play 300 games for any club in this day and age is a great achievement.

"Wes is Wes, which is great. I’m sure he’s pretty popular here, and that's the most important thing.

"He was saying to me that it took him a few years before he even moved over to England. Certainly in my time, when I was growing up, if you hadn’t moved across to England from Ireland by the time you were 20 it was almost too late.

"In that sense he was a late developer but to get that success later on, sometimes it brings a greater enjoyment. He remains young at heart, certainly."

O'Neill's arrival as Ireland boss in 2013 marked something of a new chapter for Hoolahan, who quickly went from the fringes of international football to holding a key role in his nation's first team.

"He’d been around the Ireland scene for a while but in the last couple of years he’s made a proper mark with us," the 64-year-old former City player and manager explained.

"His goal against Sweden in the Euros was just an absolute delight. Sometimes when players come back from it [international tournaments], it takes a bit of time to get back settled in.

"I know that myself, from when I was playing for Norwich after the World Cup in 1982. It takes a wee bit of time; physically, you’re a little bit tired and pre-season comes around almost too quickly for you.

"Speaking to supporters though, they were saying he’s playing really well which is good news. As long as he remains fit, then it’s good for us but also good for Norwich."

After starring at Euro 2016, City's playmaker - along with teammate Robbie Brady - is now playing his part as Ireland look to secure a qualification berth for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Their next step on that journey sees them travel to Vienna to face Austria on Saturday, with The Boys In Green having collected seven points from their opening three matches in Group D.

"It’s a really big test for us," added O'Neill when looking ahead to the latest international fixture.

"We’ve had a couple of injuries, but that’s the nature of the game. I’m hoping the players come through unscathed.

"Then in 2017 we’ve got some big, big matches at home at the Aviva. It will really be up to us then.

"The fans have been great and very supporting of the team. Not only at the Aviva in Dublin, but also in the qualification trips and the massive effort they made to go to France."

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