Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Paul O'Hehir

'I just want to play and score goals' - Colm Whelan counting down the days to his Derry City debut after injury hell

Derry City have been here before - the question on everyone’s lips is whether they have found a head for heights?

Just four games into the season, the FAI Cup holders are already seven points clear of champions Shamrock Rovers - which is one point more than at any stage last year.

But while they led the Premier Division for 11 weeks in 2022, the Candystripes lost their nerve during a costly seven-game winless run before the summer..

The Hoops eventually collared them on May 9, moved clear and never looked back, clinching a third title-in-a-row with a whopping 13-points to spare.

Rovers have it in them to be slow starters, and particularly so this year, but few would bet against them hitting their stride sooner rather than later.

Their problem is that Derry already look stronger and are backing it up with quick-fire results.

While the proof will be in the pudding, the suspicion is they are less likely to bottle it when the pressure hits.

Particularly so with Cameron Dummigan - shortlisted for PFAI ‘Player of the Year’ - decorated ace winger Michael Duffy and FAI Cup final hero Cameron McJannet all still to return.

But the most interesting player waiting in the long grass is highly regarded striker Colm Whelan, who signed from UCD over the close season.

The Ireland U21 international hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since rupturing his cruciate playing for the Students away to Finn Harps in May.

He was carried off on a stretcher that night in Ballybofey, in what was cruel timing as he was heavily linked with a move to England that summer, with Lincoln City among those interested.

UCDs Colm Whelan receives treatment after suffering injury against Finn Harps (©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty)

Shamrock Rovers were admirers of Whelan as well, but Derry swooped over the winter for one of the league’s brightest prospects.

Whelan will continue to watch from the stands tonight as the early pace setters look to build on their solid start when they host Dundalk.

Whelan, 22, said: “It’ll be another couple of months before I’m back on the pitch but I’ve been running and doing ball work.

“I had my operation last June so it has been eight months, a long time, but the ACL is usually nine or ten months.

“I’ve eased into it and I’m just doing everything the club has asked of me. I’ve been showing up every day, not missing a day and enjoying being around the lads.

“I haven’t played a game since last May so it’s been a long time. I’m just looking forward to getting back.”

Whelan is enjoying life around the city and is living with team-mates Brian Maher, Brandon Kavanagh and McJannet, having taken Matty Smith’s spot in the house after he joined Shels.

At UCD, Kilkenny lad Whelan combined football with his studies and completed a degree in city planning.

But it was the plans that Ruaidhri Higgins put on the table that convinced him Derry was the right move.

“He sold the club to me and said it’s a big project going forward,” continued Whelan.

“Anyone who saw 25,000 Derry fans show up for the FAI Cup final could see how huge the club is.

“Walking around the city, even going to the shops, you can see the kids wearing Derry City jerseys. They’re all Derry City mad which is good.”

Whelan continued: “(Winning the league) is the aim for Derry. It’s exciting and everybody can see they’re creating something.

“But every team in the league has gotten stronger and there’s loads of competition for the title.”

Derry’s Colm Whelan - who hopes to return this summer - stretches on the pitch ahead of the President's Cup with Shamrock Rovers (©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

Whelan is itching to make up for lost time and wants to remind people what he is all about - even if he prefers to stay out of the limelight.

Quietly spoken, he doesn’t crave headlines and would rather his football does the talking, which it had been doing for club and country.

But for the cruciate, he would have been part of the Ireland squad that fell agonisingly short in the European Championship playoff defeat - on penalties - to Israel.

That said, Whelan would have had a battle on his hands trying to dislodge a certain striker by the name of Evan Ferguson, who scored Ireland’s goal in the home leg.

“I had heard about him before we were in the 21s together, but he’s flying now. Fair play to him, he’s a credit to himself,” said Whelan.

“I couldn’t get over the size of him - he was bigger than me at 16! He was starting ahead of me and fair play to him. He’ll have a great career.”

Growing up in Kilkenny, Whelan could have followed a hurling path as he was more than handy with a hurl and sliotar.

“I played hurling with Kilkenny until I was 16, but I was better at football so it was an easy choice for me,” he says with a smile.

All going well, Whelan could be back in action by the end of May.

At that stage last year, he was banging in goals for UCD while Derry were coming to terms with their costly fall from top spot.

But with a red and white jersey on his back this year, Whelan may well be the ace up the sleeve for a Derry City side intent on swapping its FAI Cup for a league trophy.

“I just want to play and score goals, which I love,” he said.


Get the latest sports headlines straight to your inbox by signing up for free email alerts

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.