Norwich City midfielder Wes Hoolahan ready for the Euro 2016 spotlight
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Wes Hoolahan has had a longer route to the top than many of his peers. PADDY DAVITT charts the road to Euro 2016.
Wes Hoolahan feels ready to complete his journey from the back streets of Dublin to the big stage at Euro 2016.
Norwich City’s cult hero has emerged as a key creative force for the Republic of Ireland under Martin O’Neill, as the Irish begin their quest for glory against club mate Martin Olsson’s Sweden in Paris on Monday.
City’s longest-serving player watched his country’s miserable Euro 2012 group stage exit from a holiday villa in Spain, but Hoolahan has blossomed under O’Neill, who replaced Giovanni Trapattoni in 2013.
“I don’t look at the past, I look at the present and I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he said. “It used to be difficult at the time when you watched the games. After that I didn’t think much of it, you’re playing league football week in week out, playing well, and in the Premier League it was great, and you kind of switched off a bit, but when the games came up you wished you were there.
“Trap didn’t pick me. Then Martin’s come in and he’s picked me from the start. Obviously it’s great that I’ve been picked in the squad. I’m honoured to play for my country, I think I’ve played about 30 times, to play that many is a great honour.”
Hoolahan’s love of home only saw him swap League of Ireland football at Shelbourne when he was 24 to link up for the first time with the formative influence in his professional career at Scottish club Livingston.
“I loved home, I’m a real home person, obviously living with my Mum and Dad was great and you can’t beat your Mum’s cooking,” he said. “My Dad used to take me out quite a lot. Where I was born and brought up there was a lot of five-a-sides, a lot of football happening.
“I think the days of going out on the streets and kicking a football are gone now but I was 24 when I went across to Scotland and it kind of took me time to get going but once I got the hang of things I was good.
“When Paul Lambert took over at Norwich, he changed my position from left winger to a number 10. Being in the middle enabled me to get on the ball more. As a winger, you’re isolated out there. Paul found a position that suited me and got the best out of me. He said he didn’t see me as a winger, more as a central midfielder, getting on the ball. That season I got a lot of goals and assists. It worked out that was my best position.”
Hoolahan forged a formidable spearhead with Chris Martin and Grant Holt that propelled Norwich from the depths of League One to the Premier League. The Dubliner has been the one constant in every high and low at Carrow Road in recent seasons but for now it is his country calling rather than City’s bid to bounce back from relegation.
“We’ll concentrate on getting out of the group and then see what happens from there. I’m quietly confident but it will be tough,” he said, with the Irish also drawn in a pool featuring heavyweight duo Belgium and Italy. “I’ve had a good season, and the last couple of seasons. I feel fit and ready, as fit as I did four or five years ago. If the gaffer wants me to play three games in 10 days, barring niggles or injury, I’ll be fine.”
Hoolahan hinted prior to the tournament he might be prepared to call time on his international career, but the Norwich midfielder insists his only focus is Sweden on Monday.
“I just think about the next game, the next game will be Sweden, I’m going to think about that game and hopefully we’ll get the result we need,” he said. “I still feel quite young and healthy and fit and obviously we’ll see how the tournament goes and see what happens.”