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top boy Gary Waddock hails ‘fantastic’ Wes Hoolahan’s contribution to Cambridge promotion

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Wes Hoolahan in action for Cambridge United against Newport County at Abbey Stadium. Photo: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Wes Hoolahan in action for Cambridge United against Newport County at Abbey Stadium. Photo: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Wes Hoolahan in action for Cambridge United against Newport County at Abbey Stadium. Photo: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Getting out of England’s fourth tier and up a division is a slog, all those games and all that travel, with no time to rest.

But sometimes the people who work for Cambridge United can only stop in their tracks and admire what their Irish veteran does with the ball. Wes Hoolahan will turn 39 next week but he’s still capable of breathtaking moments, even in the dull normality of the training ground.

“When he trains he’s on a fantastic level and the players all enjoy training with him, the staff enjoy watching him on a daily basis, and then he takes that into a match situation,” says Gary Waddock, the former Ireland midfielder who is assistant manager at Cambridge, a club who have been promoted to League One, with Hoolahan playing a huge role in that promotion success.

“He’s been great for the whole group, for the club overall, some of the things he does in training are off the scale. He had a great career and I was lucky to see it first hand.”

Waddock had not worked with Hoolahan before until they hooked up at Cambridge last summer but despite the age gap Waddock was playing in a Wembley FA Cup final for QPR in the week that Hoolahan was born – they hit it off, nationality one common ground.

Waddock’s Ireland career lasted for 10 years but ended in difficult circumstances, when he was controversially axed from the squad just before the 1990 World Cup finals, while Hoolahan arrived late to the international stage and was able to go out on his own terms, retiring when he chose.

“We touched on our experiences at international level, we had a conversation when he first came in, we chatted about caps and the Ireland days,” says Waddock.

“We were both midfielders who played for Ireland but we were different players. He has real quality with that left foot of his, I was more the type of player who would break up the play and give it to a Wes Hoolahan. He loved that period with Ireland, playing at that level and doing what he did. I am sure he’d have wanted more caps but the way he performed on that stage shows the quality he had.

“He has done everything in the game, played at the highest level, with club and country, He’s still so enthusiastic when he comes in and he was desperate to achieve what we did achieve this season, he was a major part of what we did. I knew what he had done before we worked together but we’d never met before. What he has achieved in the game, in the Premier League, and then come to Cambridge and perform like he did, that tells you a lot about him and I have the utmost respect for him.”

Early in the conversation, Waddock says “when Wes trains” as the veteran’s appearance at training is not a given. At 38 his body has to be managed, which often means skipping midweek games. “He manages himself really well, but the manager has managed him well too. We limit what he’s asked to do during the week in training, he looks after himself earlier in the week and joins in the group later in the week as we prepare for the game. He’s a model pro and looks after himself, and we have got the best out of him,” says Waddock.

One question which is on the mind of every Cambridge fan is, will Wes be back? Even at 39 the club would love to retain him but the player says he will take time before deciding if he has another season in him.

“It’s entirely up to him. Any ex-player will say to play as long as you can but your body dictates and it will be Wes’s call, no one else. The way he has performed this season, there’s no reason why he can’t play for another year. From what I have seen, in training and in matches, he can definitely play at League One level.

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“I’d love to see him stay on, he’s a massive influence here, not only on the squad but on the club, for him to be performing for a club like Cambridge United is amazing, for us to get him in the first place was great but the longer we can keep him the better for everyone. I see him having another year but he knows his body and he will decide. It will be up to him.”

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