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Veteran midfielder Whelan relishing return to Republic ranks

Glenn Whelan has vowed to wring every minute out of what remains of his international career after returning to the Republic of Ireland ranks at the age of 35.

The Aston Villa midfielder freely admits he thought his time had come despite never formally announcing his retirement after he won his 85th cap against Northern Ireland in November last year.

However, Martin O’Neill’s departure as manager opened the door once again and, while he knows time is against him, Whelan is determined to continue to serve new boss Mick McCarthy in whatever way he can.

He said: “It’s a privilege to come back and put the jersey on. In November, I thought that was going to be the last time I’d ever do it.

“When I got the phone call to come back, there were no second questions. It was, ‘Get the tickets booked and I’m there’.

“I know where I stand. I know I’m getting on a little bit. If I come and do my part, I’m more than happy.”

Whelan played a key role in Tuesday night’s 1-0 Euro 2020 qualifier victory over Georgia after being left out of Saturday’s opening fixture for precisely that purpose.

The cover he provided allowed match-winner Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick to prosper ahead of him, and he is happy to help school a new generation of midfielders.

Whelan said: “I never retired. Obviously Martin O’Neill at the time was going about his thing and I understood that because I’m getting on in age.

“I’m very grateful to Martin and to then get the phone call from Mick to come back… I didn’t know where I was going to stand, whether it was just to be around the lads. But I’m pushing them.

“We’ve got a few lads coming through who need that little bit of experience, so I can pass that on a little bit.

“There’s only about four or five of us who are in proper double figures (for caps). The young lads are coming through and they have to be given chances.”

The Georgia result – and more so the performance – went some of the way towards putting smiles back on the faces of fans who had endured a demoralising 2018, and with Ireland currently sitting at the top of Group D, many left feeling cautiously optimistic.

Whelan said: “The two games were banana skins a little bit. Gibraltar was a tough game with the conditions, but it’s two wins, two clean sheets and it gives us something to build on.

“We’ll definitely come back in the summer with a little bit of confidence. The last 12 months have been a little bit difficult, but hopefully we’ve got the fans back on side a little bit by giving them something to shout about.”