Is this the end for Wes? Don't you believe it, says U's team-mate
- Credit: PA
It's the dream of every Norwich City supporter to play alongside Wes Hoolahan. For Cambridge United winger Luke Hannant, that is a dream that has become reality.
The Norfolk-born footballer has linked up with the City legend in League Two this year, helping the U's mount a promotion push against the odds.
Hannant, a former Dereham Town player and Norwich fan, used to watch the Irishman as a Carrow Road season ticket holder. Now, he considers Hoolahan a close friend and describes playing alongside the 38-year-old as an honour.
"Being a Norwich boy and fan, I grew up watching him. My family had season tickets so we used to go and watch him.
"To have a player of his stature and quality to come down and play in League Two is an honour to us. It's a pleasure to have him in the team this year."
Hoolahan signed for Cambridge after a spell in Australia with Newcastle Jets. He did train with the League Two side when former City assistant Colin Calderwood was in charge back in pre-season 2019.
The Irish international did sign a contract at the Abbey Stadium last summer and has starred in a successful campaign to date for Cambridge. Despite many considering Hoolahan to have entered the twilight of his career, Hannant is urging him to play on.
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"He came and trained with us last year in pre-season and there were a few rumours flying around about that. He turned up for training and oh my god, this guy. Some of the things he does in training makes us just stand there because the quality is out of this world.
"He joined properly this season and he's a great man to have around the club. He's brought his knowledge and experience and he's a real down to earth guy. I don't see him as a 38-year-old. We have a good relationship on and off the field.
"I think people look at him as coming to the end of his career but I don't. He's still in great shape and you can see that in games. He's still the things he did in the Championship and the Prem. He will never lose that."
Hannant was a latecomer to professional football when he joined Port Vale in 2018. The winger penned his first contract aged 22, but it was two years later that he made his EFL debut.
In that regard, the winger shares similarities with Hoolahan, who signed for the Canaries as a 26-year-old having entered English football with Blackpool two years before.
"We have something in common, I think he moved to Norwich when he was only 26 and I also came into the professional game quite late. I didn't make my Football League debut until I was 24.
"We've had chats about it never being too late to push up the leagues and succeed in your career. He's been useful with that. If I have had a couple of periods this season where I've been having doubts or haven't hit the heights I would like, he's been able to encourage me.
"When you play alongside him, you know he will always provide opportunities to create or score. That's helped me on the pitch.
"We play golf together and we've gained a pretty strong friendship. He's been a great idol for me and the lads give me a little bit of stick because I always talk about him being at Norwich and stuff. But it's hard not to when you've grown up watching someone as good as Wes and then you're fortunate enough to play alongside him."
Hannant and Hoolahan both keep a close eye on the fortunes of the Canaries from afar, with the 27-year-old admitting a double promotion for his current and boyhood club would be the perfect end to a positive season.
"We're always looking out for results," Hannant said. "After every game, me and Wes talk to each other and say 'what was the Norwich score?' 'how has it gone?'. We're always keeping an eye out for them.
"I watched them this Sunday and Todd scored an excellent goal. They are always going to be the big team in the Championship and with (Daniel) Farke playing the way he does, there's no reason why they shouldn't get a promotion now.
"If we were to both get promoted this season that would be the perfect outcome for me and my family who are Norwich fans. We always watch out for their results and we wish them all the best. Hopefully, we can get promotion together."