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Lions in Focus: Liam Whelan

BY NICHOLAS GALEA

 

Like many footballers, Liam Whelan’s first interaction with Aussie Rules came as a young child.

‘Dad is pretty full on about football; he just loves his footy, lives and breathes it, ever since he was young,’ Whelan said.

‘I could be in bed as a kid and he’d be singing me football lullabies and things like that. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been bombarded with football.’

In comparison Whelan’s mother would have preferred if he decided to focus on another sport like tennis.

‘She doesn’t like the contact like most mums unless they are a real footy head as well,’ he said.

‘Of course she is always worried that we are going to hurt ourselves but I was always taught to go in harder than the opposition.’

‘It’s hard with training and getting home late but Mum is very supportive and always making me dinner when I’m home.’

Whelan’s football journey started in traditional fashion with AusKick at his home in East Ringwood for a few years before he playing his junior seasons with the East Ringwood Football Club.

‘It was probably in Under 9s that I started playing juniors for East Ringwood and went all the way to the Under 19s,’ he said.

‘Junior football at East Ringwood was quite good; I got a junior premiership and also ended up playing in the Under 19s flag (as a 16 year old) in 2014 with my eventual Coburg teammates in “Weightsy” (Josh Weightman) and Sam Lowson.’

‘I got a bit lucky as my brother put in a good word for me to the coach as he was a bit older and playing with them.’

In 2017 opportunities started to lessen at East Ringwood and Whelan made the decision to drop down a few divisions and move from the Eastern Football League to the Victorian Amateur Football Association.

‘My high school was Aquinas College and a lot of my high school friends were playing there in the VAFA,’ Whelan said.

‘Things probably stopped working out at East Ringwood as I wasn’t getting first opportunity so I decided I’d drop back a few divisions and just play with my friends for fun.’

‘Doing that turned out to be the best thing for me as I ended up having a really good first 10 rounds and also played a couple of Under 19s games during our bye rounds as well.’

Unfortunately for Whelan he broke his collarbone at the midway point of the season and ultimately missed out on winning a premiership. A week after the grand final Whelan was fully healed and was one of 20 players selected to represent the VAFA in an International Rules series in Ireland. One of those fortunate 20 players was his current Coburg teammate in Luke Di Lizio.

‘It was unreal…… We went over and played Compromised International Rules games throughout Ireland and played against Tuamstars, Ashbourne in Dublin, Galloway and a few other games,’ Whelan said.

‘We also went to London and played a AFL game against AFL London which was a good experience as well and it was good to get the oval ball back in our hands.’

‘It was a great experience playing and meeting new blokes from all over the competitions in the VAFA and then making lifelong friendships.’

Whelan eventually moved on from Aquinas Old Collegians knowing he had to continue to challenge himself in pursuit of his football career and was offered a position on North Melbourne’s 2018 VFL list.

‘When I left Aquinas I obviously knew I had to go to a higher division to challenge myself and when I was offered a spot on a VFL list I had to try it.’

Ultimately he spent his time playing at Old Trinity building strong form in his 15 games after being unable to dislodge the AFL listed key position players in the team but Whelan learned several valuable lessons.

After finding it difficult to break into the line up, Whelan made the decision to move to Coburg for the 2019 VFL season but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to feature much in the pre season after issues with both of his knees.

‘I kept trying to build my knees up and reintroduced myself to the physios and fitness staff at Coburg as it wasn’t working,’ Whelan said.

‘In the end our physios/high performance staff’ in Todd Beames and Maddy Hannington decided to take me out of training and put me in the gym for a month and a half to build up my legs and focusing on all the things I needed to be doing to strengthen my knees.’

‘Thankfully my rehab ended up working as I’m playing now and I’m extremely happy to be here.’

After strong form for Old Trinity in the VAFA, Whelan soon made his Coburg debut against the Northern Blues in the Battle of Bell Street and was also able to kick his maiden goal.

‘At first I wasn’t going to be playing that week but I got the call up on Saturday morning because my local team had the bye and we had a couple of injuries ….. Our co-captain Peter McEvoy was ruled out and I got my debut,’ Whelan said.

‘Getting that jumper just meant all that hard work in the pre season had paid off and while I wasn’t out on the track I was trying my best to keep fit and put on weight.’

‘Unfortunately we didn’t get the win but it was a really good experience, I’ve still got the jumper and it is a great one to have as my first; the Heritage jumper, so I’ll always cherish that.’

With a few games under his belt in the Coburg line up Whelan has made an impression on his teammates and his coaches after being named in the bests in consecutive rounds.

‘I feel like I belong here, I want to keep my spot and not lose it,’ he said.

‘It drives me more to do the team things and play my role which is all that the coaches expect of me at this stage.’

‘I’m playing a deep position role at full back so I’m not expected to be getting 30 touches a game, I’m just expected to play my role and whatever else happens is a bonus.’

‘As long as I perform each week I’ll be happy.’

Although originally starting his career as a forward, Whelan is enjoying his role as a key defender and feels that the chemistry with the back six is steadily growing.

‘I did prefer playing up forward however playing VFL level I much prefer playing down back …… and that I also find it a lot easier to read the game coming from the back line,’ he said.

‘Working with the back six has been unreal; it is quite different to local football.’

‘Everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them and we can rely on our teammates to back us up.’

‘As long as we are doing those things we can have the confidence in each other and that is going to happen every time.’

‘The communication down back is great, I feel like I am building strong relationship with players like Harry, “Rigga”, “Ex”, Tyson, “Guthers” and “Watto” and we’re becoming a real defensive unit.’

Outside of football Whelan works as an apprentice plumber with NuTec Plumbing Australia. Currently he is at the almost at the end of his apprenticeship and will soon become a registered plumber.

‘I went straight into full time work out of high school, I did VCE and everything but I always knew I was going to work with my hands,’ Whelan said.

‘I had cousins who did plumbing so I thought I’d give it a crack and I enjoy having a new challenge each day, no two jobs are the same, you’re always thinking.’

‘We do a lot of tier two buildings, a little bit of commercial maintenance, a lot of hydraulic work and extensions on hospitals and community centres like child care facilities or primary schools.’

‘I’d like to think we are one of the smartest trades because of how much problem solving we have to do….. I think we are very underappreciated because working with water can be a pain.’

When the key defender has the chance to spend time away from football and work, he enjoys going away with his friends appreciating what the great outdoors has to offer.

‘In the off season I like going camping, I just bought a new Four Wheel Drive so I’m really excited to start going away on weekends with some mates and play around with the mud and the car,’ Whelan said.

In the 2018 off season Whelan, his girlfriend Shania and his dog spent a month driving around Australia which was an eye opening and great experience.

‘It was a big drive, lots of driving but it is something I am really enthusiastic about in the outdoors, four wheel driving and camping.’

As well as enjoying his outdoor activities, Whelan makes sure he finds the time to watch his favourite show in Scrubs.

‘I watch lots of TV shows on Netflix but my all time favourite show is Scrubs which is on Stan,’ Whelan said.

‘I’ve finally gotten Shania to watch it with me so I’m looking over to her making sure she’s watching because it is one of those shows I have always thought that my girlfriend has to like.’

‘I reckon I have re-watched it six or seven times, ever since I was 11 or 12 it has been my favourite show.’

There have been many people who have had a positive impact on Whelan’s football journey but there has always been one re-occurring figure that has been there from the very start.

‘It has to be my dad, I always go to him when I have any issues; he is always the first person I go to for guidance or whatever I need,’ Whelan said.

‘He has been a huge influence on everything I do, he has been my number one supporter and comes to every single game that I’ve ever played, even when I played in Ireland.’

Whelan describes himself as a humble nice guy and someone who is open, loud and talkative. He is someone who tries to live by the phrase of “do what makes you happy.”

‘I think something I have learnt (in life) is that if you aren’t happy with what you are doing then you should change things up (and) have the confidence to speak up and look after yourself first,’ he said.

‘Don’t sit there if you don’t want to and go with the flow because you’re going to make yourself feel worse.’

Turning 22 in November, Whelan has had a few hurdles so far in his journey to forge a career in football but he will leave nothing left in the tank trying to achieve his goal.

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