AT 30 YEARS of age, Wes Hoolahan scored his first senior international goal for Ireland last night.
It has been a long road to the top for a player who started out in the League of Ireland with Shelbourne before departing for Scotland then working his way up through England’s lower divisions to the Premier League.
Has has also had to be patient about achieving international recognition. Having earned his first cap in a friendly against Columbia in 2008, he had to wait another four years, in November’s defeat to Greece, to add to it.
Giovanni Trapattoni selected Conor Sammon alongside Shane Long in attack against Poland and it wasn’t until midway through the second half that Hoolahan made his introduction.
14 minutes later, he was tumbling away in celebration after effectively sealing the win for Ireland. Receiving a pass from fellow substitute and debutante Jeff Hendrick, he controlled on his chest before stroking past Wojciech Sczesny.
While the Ireland boss has explored the idea of a 4-5-1/4-4-1-1 formation in recent times and has acknowledged the player’s capabilities, he explained in his post-match press conference that Hoolahan simply doesn’t fit into his system he believes is best for the team.
Trapattoni said: ” In the past we had many questions about Hoolahan and I said ‘we know him very well’. Always I said that we have the new players like Long and the young ones like McCarthy.
“We need two strikers with our team because with one striker all of the team play for the one striker.
Hoolahan we know many times. With Marco (Tardelli) I repeated that it’s a pity – maybe we have overlooked him because when we see him in this club he plays well in this position but his club is no Manchester or Arsenal.
“But he is a good tactical option and in the future we will consider this.”
James McClean and Sebastian Boenisch. Credit: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Ireland were second best during the opening 45 minutes and were lucky not to find themselves behind with Borussia Dortmund duo Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski the main threats. Their first corner of the game resulted in a rather fortuitous goal on 35 minutes when Ciaran Clark finished from close range after a scramble in the box.
A number of changes on both sides saw a dtop in the tempo after the break and Hoolahan ensured a first home win in three outings.
With a trip to Stockholm followed by the visit of Austria next month, it should instill some confidence (a word Trap used several times last night) into what was a relatively inexperienced team. There is significant room for improvement, however, and avoiding defeat to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden remains a big ask.
“This evening we had three objective for this match,” the Italian said. “Evaluate the performance and the new players. We wanted to see their quality, personality, their attitude and also their commitment for the 90 minutes. And the last objective, which is usually the first, the end result.
It was very important. In life, not only in football, it gives confidence. Particularly with the new players we need confidence because we can continue to grow.
“We saw also another option with the striker. In this situation against the strong team we can think about this solution. We won but in the first half Poland were superior. We were a little bit tense and missing many easy passes.
“After the goal, we were more confident and in the second half we played better and we deserved to win.”