Birmingham City midfielder Stephen Gleeson has opened up on his relationship with his cousin, and Stoke City and Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan, after Gleeson was recalled to the Ireland squad for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia.
The Dubliner has performed well this season for Gary Rowett’s Birmingham and his strong form for the Blues has earned him a spot in Martin O’Neill’s final squad after nearly a nine-year international hiatus.
It’s been a long journey for Gleeson who received his last international cap against Bolivia in 2007, but despite his extended international absence, the former underage international admitted that it’s nice to recognise some familiar faces in the Irish camp.
“There’s a lot of lads that I’ve played U-21s with, but to have a family member [Whelan] to congratulate you when you’ve been named in the squad is really good, and then obviously to come into the squad and he’s quite established in it.
“He’s done really well over the last few years so it’s obviously nice to see. If I have any doubts about anything I can go to him and other players as well so it’s really good to see.
“He’s got a lot of caps under the last two or three managers so if I need that advice, I know I can go to him and I’m sure he’ll give it to me.”
Gleeson’s recall could not have come at a more opportune time with Harry Arter ruled out for both games while Jeff Hendrick is in doubt with a shoulder injury.
Their potential absence may create a path for Gleeson to get back into the national side, and while he will still receive stern competition from the likes of Whelan, Alan Judge and James McCarthy for a starting spot, the Cherry Orchard youth product appears to be happy with just getting on the field at this stage.
“Yeah for me it’s amazing to be back in the squad so close to a big tournament and having that buzz around the squad,” added Gleeson.
“It’s been eight or nine years since I’ve got my last cap but I think I’ve been playing well the last 18 months at club level so it’s just great to be back involved.
“It’s good to get involved again after such a long time so for me anything after this week’s training would be a bonus. If I can get on to that pitch it’d be great.”
The nine-year absence would have shaken the confidence of even the most optimistic of internationals but despite never receiving a recall from either Giovanni Trapattoni or Noel King, Gleeson insists he always backed himself to one day return to the international side.
“I never stopped believing in myself, even dropping down the leagues I knew I had the ability to one day get back here,” he added.
“I think the last time I didn’t really take it all in, I was probably a bit young, a bit over-awed and as I say coming in here I have that belief that I belong with this squad and that I have the ability to give something to this squad.
“As I said I’m taking a lot more in this time and I’ve definitely taken experiences from the first time.
“I don’t even think I had played that many league games [the last time]. I didn’t take everything in and I didn’t play to the best of my ability but I’m coming in this time having played in the Championship for the last 18 months consistently and done well, so I’m definitely a better player now.”
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena