Matthew Whelan – A Name to Remember

Matthew celebrating his first senior goal on Saturday night - courtesy of Steve Alfred
Matthew celebrating his first senior goal on Saturday night – courtesy of Steve Alfred

With a grand total of 29 minutes in League of Ireland football under his belt, Matthew Whelan announced himself to the Cobh Ramblers fans during Saturday’s 3-0 win over Cabinteely. Coming on as a second half substitute, the Ballincollig native wrote his name on the scoresheet with a bullet of a header to complete Ramblers’ scoring on the night. It capped off what has been an exciting few months for the young striker, who only joined the club’s u19 setup in July.

 Whelan had been a Ballincollig player all his life before the transfer to St Colman’s Park and it was difficult to leave his boyhood club. A key member of Ballincollig’s FAI Youth Cup winning side of 2016, the club’s first ever all-Ireland title, he has fond memories of his local outfit,

 “I started playing with Ballincollig when I was just six years old and stayed with them up until the end of last season, when I signed for Cobh. It was incredibly hard to leave. It felt very different walking out onto a pitch with different teammates when I first came here. I had been playing with them for so long but winning the Youths Cup at Turners Cross with them in my last year was the perfect send-off. They won the League Cup on Sunday just gone and I’m delighted for them as they deserve it.”

Having been a key-member of the Cork Youths side that won the All-Ireland title this year, he was aware that Cork’s two League of Ireland sides were looking at members of that side once the transfer window opened in July and was happy to join Cobh,

“I got a call when the Youths season finished from Len Hackett, who was the u19 manager at the time, about signing for Cobh. I had known a bit about the club already, and knew some lads who had played with Ramblers’ u19’s before. I knew that it would be a great step up for me and I couldn’t wait to get started. Shay Daly signed from Ballincollig as well so it was good to join at the same time as him.”  

The former Coláiste Choilm student made an instant impact at u19 level, scoring a fifteen minute hatrick against Bray Wanderers in one of his first games for the club and finished the campaign with eight goals to his name, a third of his side’s total for the year having only joined them with over half the season completed. Recognising the increased standard at this level, Matthew was glad to hit the ground running,

“It was the perfect start really but I have to say that I wouldn’t have been able to score the goals if it wasn’t for the players around me. Week in week out they set me up perfectly for goals and knew exactly where I wanted the ball. There is definitely a difference in speed, physicality and intensity at this level but I’m happy that I found my feet quickly enough.” 

His form with the u19’s quickly caught the eye of senior boss Stephen Henderson and he was keen to get the young striker involved at First Division level,

“Hendo originally wanted me to just train with the seniors at the start, but after we had beaten Cabinteely 1-0 (with the u19’s), he wanted to speak with me and asked me to register with them. The following week I was asked to travel with them to Drogheda. With us 2-0 down, he decided to give me my League of Ireland debut and that’s something that I truly can’t thank him enough for. After the game the lads were gutted as we thought that loss could be the end of the play-off hopes. As we all know now though, it’s changed a lot and it’s now in our own hands.”

Whelan has definitely settled into the squad at this stage and recognises the help of the more senior players in the squad,

It really has been great so far. The lads are great craic and it was very easy to settle in! There’s a real bond here at you can see that out on the pitch. It’s a big help having the likes of Kev Mulcahy, Shane O’Connor and Hunty (Paul Hunt) around the place. They’re used to this level and it’s a big plus for young players like me.”

Looking back on his first senior goal last weekend, it’s safe to say that Matthew was overjoyed with it. He was also pleased to do it in front of such a large crowd, the club’s highest attendance of the season, 

“It was honestly incredible. That’s the best word to describe it. It showed me how far that I had come. To do it in St Colman’s Park in front of everyone made it extra special. The fans were amazing that night. You often hear people thanking fans as if they need too, but this is genuine. If you are having a bad spell during game, the supporters singing are the best people to get you through it, and we as players can’t thank them enough.”

Having completed the Leaving Certificate this summer Matthew is now studying Soccer Coaching & Education in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. With numerous fellow League of Ireland U19 players studying the same course, including Cobh’s Troy O’Sullivan and Cork City’s Denzil Fernandes, Matthew is enjoying his time there and eager to spread the word,

“It really is going great at the moment. We have a great team full of players from Ramblers and Cork City. For anyone interested in doing a course to do with football after leaving school, I can’t recommend it enough!”

Turning the focus back to Cobh matters and the crucial tie away to Athlone, a win will secure a play-off spot and that’s the only thing on this young striker’s mind right now,

“At the moment, all that I care about is getting promotion for the club. We’re taking every game as they come but that’s the aim. I aspire to be at the top and to go as high as I can,  wherever that takes me. We’re working hard to get there and a win up in Athlone will be a huge step.” 

This eighteen year old is evidently a player with a big future in the game. Eight goals in eight games at u19 level, followed by another on his home League of Ireland debut, is remarkable and Matthew Whelan is a player to keep an eye on!

By Thomas Stafford

Cobh Ramblers FC

Cobh Ramblers Football Club is an Irish football club. The club, founded in 1922 and elected to the League of Ireland in 1985, hails from Cobh, County Cork and play their home matches at St. Colman's Park. The club's colours are claret and blue.