GMF tribute to Liverpool's Irish maestro

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Ronald Andrew Whelan joined Liverpool in 1979. The amiable Irishman went on to feature in the famous all conquering Liverpool team that swept all domestic honours during the 1980s.

Bob Paisley's watchful eye had run the rule and the sprightly near 18 year old was plucked by Paisley from the obscurity of Home Farm and thrust head first into the football carnival that was Anfield.

Whelan hailed from a football family. In the 1960s, Ronnie Whelan senior was an established star for St Patrick's Athletic and Ireland. His brother Paul Whelan played for Bohemian FC and Shamrock Rovers.

April 3 1981 was the day Whelan made a debut to remember, scoring in a 3–0 Anfield hammering of Stoke City. Liverpool's strength in depth meant the youngster was rewarded for his great start with no further appearances that season.

Whelan got his chance the following campaign and replaced Ray Kennedy on Liverpool's left flank. The young apprentice came of age as Liverpool retained the League and won the League Cup - Whelan scoring two in the 3-1 Wembley win over Tottenham Hotspur.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo Whelan reminisced: “Some things stick out in your mind and of all the things I remember it’s Phil Thompson coming up to me in the celebrations afterwards and shouting into my ear: ‘you were absolutely magnificent’.

“That was important to me because I felt I was being accepted now by the senior men in the dressing room, players who had won everything and done it all.”

The Irish maestro repeated the trick the following season as League Champions Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-1 in the League Cup final. This time Whelan's pulsating long range barracuda sealed a 2-1 extra time win.

An injury blighted season could not put Whelan off playing a starring role as the Red machine bagged the treble of League, League Cup and the 1984 European Cup.

After the Heysel tragedy, Liverpool and Whelan enjoyed continued success as Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool won the Double in 1986. Whelan was inspirational, and set up two of the Liverpool's winning goals in the historic all Merseyside FA Cup final.

After a barren 1986/87 season Whelan found his niche in central midfield after relinquishing the left side to new recruit John Barnes. It was just the tonic as Liverpool took the title. However injuries ruled him out of the shock FA Cup final loss to Wimbledon - described by manager Bobby Gould as “the Cinderellas of the FA Cup.”

The following season Whelan replaced the injured Alan Hansen as club captain and lifted the FA Cup, dedicated to those who perished during the Hillsborough tragedy. Liverpool lost the title with the last luck of the season at Anfield in what is arguably the greatest English League game of all time.

Whelan was part of the emerald midfield, along with Ray Houghton and Toffee nose Kevin Sheedy - he with the magic left boot, who plotted England's downfall at Euro '88. After Marco Van Basten's stunning winning volley in the final, Whelan’s magical mid air swivel volley against the Soviet Union gets my nod for goal of the tournament. "It gets better every time I see it." Jack Charlton said that it was “a goal I’d take a very long time to forget.”

Great goals also include the majestic 1990 chip over Bruce Grobelaar at Old Trafford.

After his last League winners medal in 1990 Whelan remained at Anfield long enough to see a rot set in that has seen Liverpool fail to win a League title since.

Whelan played 443 1st team games for Liverpool, scoring 73 goals and winning six League title medals, three FA Cups, a European Cup and 3 Milk Cup medals.

Whelan was a supreme player in a supreme team. Kenny Dalglish recently described Whelan as “one of the club's greatest ever servants.” Whelan though summed it best when he wrote recently in his published autobiography - 'Walk On My Life in Red': “And I played in a team that had so much flair it could go and win a game out of nowhere.”

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