When it comes to learning your trade, defender Corey Whelan had one of the best football groundings possible with just over 11 years spent with Premier League giants Liverpool.
Broadening his horizons yet further, he left Anfield to sample life in the USL with Phoenix Rising FC in Arizona, before heading home last November to eventually team up with Wigan.
We spoke to him this week about his life in the game so far.
“I was with Liverpool from the age of about 9 and I left in the summer of 2019, when I was about 21,” he said. “Obviously that’s quite a significant amount of time in terms of my career and I grew up around some of the best coaches possible.
“Everything I did there has set me in good stead and I really enjoyed my time. Coaching wise Neil Critchley, who is now the Blackpool manager, was really good when I worked under him for a couple of years.
“Alex Inglethorpe the academy director also had a big influence in me growing up, in terms of my youth career, but there were loads of people like that. There aren’t enough thank yous that I can give out because it’s a great bunch of people at Liverpool, and when you’re learning at a place like that you can’t really complain.”
“Looking back, I spent the best part of 11 years there and I wouldn’t change any of it,” he confirmed. “I worked with some of the best people, and I trained with what some would call established Premier League footballers.
“Who wouldn’t learn in that environment? Once you’re thrown into the first team bubble you realise this is it now, you have to cope or you sink. Watching how those top players prepare for what they do every day is a lesson in itself, and I’m just pleased that I was able to do it.
“Funnily enough my opportunity to dip in and out of Melwood came just as I was coming to the end of my time at the club. That was strange, in some ways, because I probably thought that if I’d had the chance earlier to have had a bit of sustained time there things may have been different, and who knows whether or not I’d have kicked on.
“I got to enjoy going away to Marbella and stuff like that with them and it was good to work under the new manager. The success that’s been brought to the club over the last few years speaks for itself and I’ll always look back on it fondly.”
More vital experience came during his time at Anfield with loan spells at Yeovil and Crewe.
“Again, we’re talking about really good people at both clubs who go about things the right way,” he told us. “My debut in league football was at Yeovil, which was good to get under my belt, and then there were more games to come after that.
“Going back to Crewe was a nice touch because that’s where I started my journey as a footballer as a boy. It was really nice to go back there and I enjoyed it a lot.
“At Liverpool they teach you to be a good person and you learn about the technical side of the game as well. Going on loan teaches you all kinds of other things because you’re going to an environment that couldn’t be any more different to youth football.
“It’s men’s football and the demand on three points is a lot higher. Having those experiences really has set me in good stead because it makes you more competitive and it makes you realise that you need to learn the ins and outs of the game. To be able to do that at a young age was crucial for me.”
But the time eventually came where a move away from Merseyside, with his career in mind, became the best option.
“I think I hit the point at 21 where I knew I had to do what was best for my career going forward,” he confirmed. “I knew then that I had to look after myself, because it was ok being around a club like that, but some players will struggle to let go of the fact that they’re not a Liverpool player any more.
“I didn’t want to be like that and I understood that if I wanted to get first team football regularly I had to do something about it. I went over to America and now I’ve landed in this fortunate position I’m more than ready to do that here with Carlisle United now.
“Going over to play for Phoenix came my way just as my time at Liverpool was done. It was an experience I wanted to take on just to see what it was about. Peter Ramage was the assistant manager over there and he got in touch, and he’s ex-Premier League player and a defender as well.
“He told me how good it would be and it was something I really took to. Everything he said sold it to me and before I knew it I was on a plane to go out there. I had a really successful time, we won trophies and stuff like that, and it was a good time in my career.
“I learned so much from it as well. It taught me a lot about me and life in general, and also about football. I was out there on my own for large parts of it and it was a completely foreign environment, and even the people are a lot different to what it’s like over here.
“They eat different things and they do different things, but the football side was brilliant for me. Peter Ramage has a lot of knowledge and ultimately we were successful. I won two trophies while I was out there and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about what I went over there to do.”
Returning to England brought a different kind of challenge as he joined a club battling to avoid relegation.
“That was a huge challenge, I have to say, but I’m so glad they stayed up,” he said. “When January came around this year it’s the time for a footballer where you want to be at a club and playing.
“I came home in the November and the chance to play for Wigan came in January. Obviously we weren’t pushing for promotion or titles, so it was tough, because we knew we had to work as hard as possible to keep them in League One.
“We got a great group together that pulled close on and off the pitch and that’s what helped us to get the results we needed. At the end of the Hull game when we eventually knew we’d stayed up it was great.
“There were smiles all over because we knew we’d given something back to the club at what was such a hard time. That was rewarding in itself.
“I didn’t play as much as a I would have liked but it was a stop-start thing within a short-term contract. I can’t speak highly enough of the job the manager and his staff did to keep them up. It was good to be a part of it, they have a great set-up and a good group of lads, and I think they’ll be in a much better place moving forward.
“I wanted to take a new challenge on and that’s why I decided to move. Good luck to them, but I’m just ready to be a Carlisle player now because I think we can do things here this season.”
And what about the appearances for his country at the under-17 and under-21 levels?
“That was good, I represented them for the first time at under-17 level and I went through a Euro qualifier with them,” he explained. “I played again when I got a bit older and it was a great experience to be able to go away to different countries and compete against the best young players in the world.
“It taught me a lot playing against the likes of Germany and stuff like that, and we had a great group and a good manager. It was a really good time.
“It’s good looking back at things like that but it’s all about what happens going forward now. I’m at Brunton Park, a new place for me, and I’m really excited.
“I’ve never been here even though I’ve been on-loan in the same league. Carlisle played us down in Yeovil when I was there, but looking round here this feels like home already.
“I can’t wait to play here, hopefully in front of fans when everything is back to normal. It’s been a weird time for everyone over this past year or so but there are bigger things going on in the world.
“We’re passionate about what we do as footballers and I think it’s been important for the fans that we’ve carried on. They’ll be really looking forward to being back and we’ll want to do well for them, that’s a certainty.”
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