In-form Wes Hoolahan could become Ireland's Di Natale ahead of World Cup 2014

Despite featuring only intermittently for Ireland, the Norwich playmaker, in the autumn of his career, could enjoy similar international honours as Udinese veteran
By Ryan Kelly

In May 2008 Giovanni Trapattoni handed Wes Hoolahan his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland as a second-half substitute during the 1-0 friendly victory over Colombia at Craven Cottage. Then 26 years old, Hoolahan had been instrumental in helping Blackpool avoid relegation from the Championship that season. The Seasiders secured their highest league position in the Football League for over a quarter of a century when they finished 19th, and Hoolahan aided their cause, scoring five goals in 45 league appearances.

Remarkably, it would be over four years before the midfielder would pick up another cap despite widespread calls for his inclusion. He was, in the eyes of observers, the type of player Ireland lacked under Trapattoni, who favoured functional football.

The career path of Hoolahan has not been particularly prosaic. He is one of a growing number of League of Ireland graduates now plying his trade in the top British divisions, having begun his professional career with Shelbourne. His sheer dynamism and wealth of technique was abundantly evident from his earliest days at Tolka Park. There he became the stand-out player in a team that had come to dominate the Irish domestic game, and he has replicated this feat during his travels through the world of football, whether it be in League One, the Championship or the English Premier League, where he is currently standing out under Chris Hughton in a hugely impressive Norwich side.

Back in the fold | Hoolahan picks up a second international cap against Greece

Shortly after making his senior bow for Ireland, in June 2008 Hoolahan signed on at Carrow Road and he soon became an important player there. At Norwich, Hoolahan was eventually reunited with Paul Lambert, the man who first spotted his abilities as manager of Livingston, and this coincided with a marked increase in the player's confidence.

The Dubliner was integral in back-to-back promotion-winning teams as Norwich amazingly went from League One to the Premier League in the space of two seasons, with Hoolahan finding himself included in consecutive PFA League One and Championship teams of the year in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Despite closing in on his 30s, the midfielder was playing some of the finest football of his career, which also, in part, facilitated the prodigious goalscoring form of team-mate Grant Holt.

Caps, Goals: 2,0

Clubs: Shelbourne, Livingstone, Blackpool, Norwich
Despite his obvious positive attributes, international honours continued to elude Hoolahan. When first confronted with calls for the Lilliputian midfielder to be included in squads, Giovanni Trapattoni spoke dismissively, remarking that Hoolahan simply did not fit into his preferred tactical system of the defensive 4-4-2. Indeed, as recently as October 2012, Trapattoni's assistant Marco Tardelli similarly brushed off the question of Hoolahan's absence by suggesting that it was time to look to the future.

Contrary, however, to Tardelli's comment, the midfielder was eventually awarded with a call up, just one month later, for the friendly against Greece in November 2012, where he would earn his second cap. By conventional standards, at 30 years of age, Hoolahan is in the autumn of his years as a professional footballer, at a time when some are even considering international retirement.

Nevertheless, he continues to outperform his more vaunted peers and opponents in the Premier League and his outstanding displays recently earned him a new three-year contract which will see him remain at Carrow Road until 2015.

When one considers his demonstrable ability, the fact that he has just two senior caps to his name is a true shame, and for this Giovanni Trapattoni must bear full responsibility. However, it is not too late for Hoolahan to make his mark on the international stage.

Take, for example, Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale. Like Hoolahan, the diminutive striker made his senior international debut for the Azzurri in his mid-20s under Giovanni Trapattoni, but featured only intermittently before becoming a regular in his 30s. He has gone on to appear in two European Championships and a World Cup with Italy.

Indeed, the unheralded maestro Hoolahan could enjoy a similar experience as Ireland campaign for their part in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.