Glenn Whelan is treating the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 shoot-out with Denmark this evening as if it is his last big game.
The 35-year-old Hearts midfielder thought his international career had drawn to a close during the latter part of Martin O’Neill’s reign as manager, but he has returned under Mick McCarthy to establish himself in the team once again.
However, with his 36th birthday in January, Whelan knows he has to savour every last minute he has left wearing the green shirt of Ireland and tonight’s quest for qualification could be as big as it gets.
McCarthy’s side know victory against the Danes will secure a third successive trip to the European Championship for the Irish, but the formbook does not make for good reading – it will be the sixth time the sides have met in two years and the Republic have won none of the previous five.
Whelan said: “This is what we want, this is why we’re here. This is why we rock up for friendlies when you could be on the beach having four or five days off. This is why you play for your country, to play in these games.
“There are kids out there who are dreaming of playing for Ireland. It could be the last big night for me and I’m going to cherish it and enjoy it as much as I can, even though it’s a big game.
“For me to get a second bite at the cherry as it is – it was taken away from me, I was never going to play for my country again and now I’ll, please God, get picked tomorrow to play in possibly one of the biggest games that Ireland have played in.
“For me I’m going to cherish it, take it on board. Although it’s nerve-racking and it’ll be tight, I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.”
McCarthy, who rested most of his key players when the Irish defeated New Zealand 3-1 in a friendly on Thursday, is not fazed by the Republic’s recent poor record against Denmark and says that he would “go home” if he didn’t think his team could secure all three points this evening.
The 60-year-old Ireland boss said: “When people tell me that ‘you haven’t beaten somebody for so many times’, well, I always believe it’s about time we did and that’s the mentality that I try to instil into everybody else. Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again. There’s loads of places being flooded in England at the minute – they’ve never been flooded before, but they are because it’s been raining a lot.
“I just think that for us, always there’s a big performance in us that can win a game. If I don’t believe it, I might as well go home – and I’m not going home any time soon.”
Asked by a Danish journalist if he accepted that Age Hareide’s team are technically better than his, McCarthy – who as a schoolboy watched then Second Division Sunderland stun the mighty Leeds to lift the 1973 FA Cup – puffed out his chest and said: “If I sat here and said I was better than everyone else, you wouldn’t believe me, would you?
“It doesn’t concern me, people’s opinions don’t concern me, because it’s on the day.
“I’ve seen a lot of cup finals. I was a big Leeds fan as a kid. I remember watching them against Sunderland. They were an absolute shoo-in, Sunderland couldn’t win. And guess what? They did.
“All of the games I’ve seen or been involved in subsequently when teams shouldn’t win and the other side has a better team and better players and a better manager and everything is in their favour, and they get slapped – well, that’s what I’m hoping will happen tomorrow.”