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INTERVIEW: We want to continue to build

Corey Whelan on shape, discipline, leaders and competition for places

24 August 2022


INTERVIEW: We want to continue to build

Corey Whelan on shape, discipline, leaders and competition for places

24 August 2022

Defender Corey Whelan slotted in seamlessly to the United back line when he was called upon for the Carabao Cup meeting with Shrewsbury, earning praise from manager Paul Simpson for his attitude and approach as he also captained the team against Swindon and Stevenage.

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Recognised in the dressing room as a thorough professional, he spoke to us this week about the importance of putting the disappointment of the performance and result at The Lamex Stadium to one side, and of learning the lessons of what had been a slow start to that game.

“We were all disappointed after Saturday,” he admitted. “After the game there was an honest reflection from the lads and the coaching staff, we just never got going.

“In any game of football if you give yourselves two goals to try and climb back from it’s always difficult. It’s gone now, it’s in the past and we’ve just got to try and put it right on Saturday.”

“I think we’ve got to be realistic because we know we’re not going to win every game of football,” he continued. “Stevenage have started the season quite bright and it’s always a difficult place to go.

“We came away disappointed because we knew if we went there and carried on what we’ve been doing we would have got a positive result, but it wasn’t to be and it’s just up to us to react now.

“Adding to it is the fact that the feeling we can get a result against anyone is something that came into the group at the back end of last year.

“We were beating teams at the top end of the table and it’s definitely a feeling within in the dressing room. We’ve got a lot of belief in ourselves and in each other, and we’ve got to continue to build on that.”

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Looking critically at the way the first half went at the weekend, he commented: “In any game of football you’ve got to earn the right to play, and for the first 40 minutes on Saturday I don’t think we did that.

“We looked over the goals as a group this morning and we’ll obviously reflect on them individually as well, but we’ve just got to get pulling in the right direction again to prove it was just a blip.

“We’ve got quality players within the group. Denno is producing week in week out at the minute and we’ve got the likes of Gibbo and Omari who are match winners on their day, as well as lads who aren’t fit at the moment.

“We’ve definitely got ability there, first and foremost we’ve just got to earn the right to play, then our ability and quality will shine through.”

The reception from the fans after every game so far this season has shown an understanding from the terraces about what the group is trying to build.

“We’ve created a good energy with or fans,” he agreed. “We spoke about trying to make this not a nice place to come for teams. If we’re honest with ourselves there were teams who came here and turned us over last year.

“We weren’t happy about that and we’re trying to strive to put that right this year. I think the start to the season shows we’re not just here to be a part of League Two, we’re here to push, and we believe we can be fighting for those top spots come May.

“As far as what changed, I think the obvious answer is the manager. Everybody knows we weren’t in a great place in February, I remember us sitting down as a group and having an honest conversation with ourselves - then a week later we had that disappointing result against Swindon.

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“Things change so quickly in football and I think a new voice with new ideas was a breath of fresh air. We just bought into it and once you win a game you can be surprised about how many you can then win on the bounce.

“It’s the same the other way, as we found last year as well, losing games is hard to get out of but winning them is as well. Since then we’ve proved we’re a tough side to play against and on our day we can beat anyone.

“I think we’re due to give someone a hiding soon because we’ve created a lot of chances. If we keep doing that, I think we’ll be fine.”

And he didn’t hide away from the fact that a couple of those opportunities had come his way.

“I’ve had a couple of chances myself,” he told us. “First and foremost my job is to defend and keep clean sheets as a team. We need to get back to that as well, it hasn’t really been mentioned, but we know we haven’t kept a clean sheet since the first game of the season, and we need to fix that.

“As well as that I know I need to get a couple of goals from set pieces. The manager, Gav and Gez always say when we go up for set pieces that we aren’t just a number, we’ve got to want to score and get on the end of things.

“I think I have had that, I just haven’t been able to get a goal to come with it. I want to score goals and I feel like it’s a part of my game I have to improve, so hopefully in the next few weeks I can get one and then who knows from there.

“The good thing is we have Denno playing the way he is. I’m over the moon for him. He’s a good mate of mine in the group, we share a car most days, and he’s my room-mate on away trips.

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“If he’s not up for player of the month there’s something wrong. We need to get more of us firing on all cylinders, we can’t just rely on Denno. It’s nice for him at the minute but I’m sure he’d love a helping hand as well.

“I’m buzzing for him, he deserves it, great attitude day in day out, and he’s reaped his rewards. It’s no surprise when he starts the season as well as he has.”

A tough pre-season has allowed the players to adapt to the high-intensity style of play asked for by the manager, with a formation that suits a very attack-minded mentality.

“You’ve got to be prepared to work hard or you won’t get anywhere here,” he confirmed. “Pre-season is never nice for anybody, but you’ve got to come back in good shape and raring to go because it can catch you out if you don’t.

“I think all of the lads came back in brilliant shape and there wasn’t anyone struggling to get through sessions. I think that’s showing in the performances now, we’re always going to the end and you don’t see anyone down with cramp or anything like that.

“The stuff we’re doing in the gym with Jamie Roper is really helping as well. It’s set us in good stead, but we just need to get back to winning games now.

“We’re comfortable with the formation, we played a few last year, which was down to managers and different styles, but I think the back three has worked well for us.

“We’re still building an understanding and there’s still more we can learn. We’ve got new lads coming in like Hunts and Duncan who we haven’t played a lot with, but they’ve settled into the group brilliantly.


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“They’re starting to understand the system and how we want to work, but I think we’ve looked good as a back three. The midfield’s a lot more fluid, so we can play a two and a one, or a one and a two, and I think the lads have really bought into it and we’re only going to get better at it the more we do it.”

And his situation at the start of the season is a demonstration of how every player has to be ready to step up.

“It’s something in football that’s changing,” he said. “In the past you’ll have seen that it was fairly rigid, and even formations didn’t chop and change. It would be 4-4-2 and the eleven pretty much stayed the same every week.

“These days with the load the lads put in there are going to be bumps along the way, and if you’re not in the team you’ve got to be ready. If you’re not in the manager’s plans come the first game it doesn’t mean to say that you’re not going to involved at all.

“That’s exactly how it was for me, and when I came in it was as captain. The armband is a really proud moment and thing for me to do, it’s an honour to wear it each time, but the more leaders we get out on the pitch the better.

“It doesn’t matter who has the armband, we all need to be pulling in the same direction and, when we are, we’ve already seen how much of a good thing that is.

“But getting the armband gives a sense that he trusts me to do the job and that’s a nice feeling to have. The more you can become a reliable player it helps with what you want to do in the games and stuff like that.

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“You do feel a little bit of an added pressure, but that’s not so much there at the moment because there are lads out there who have done the job before. Callum Guy is a great example, and Jordan Gibson is a leader in his own way.

“Denno comes with knowledge and experience and now we have Hunts in the group as well. Morgan is a leader when he’s fit, so there are a lot of players who lead. It is nice to have the armband but it’s good to know there are others taking the responsibility as well.”

Along with the responsibility being shouldered by everybody is a very healthy competition for places.

“That’s why you’re in the sport,” he insisted. “You can get complacent and take your eye off the ball if there’s no competition there. It’s down to individuals and helping each other, whether it’s you one Saturday, it could be your mate the next.

“You work hard to be involved, and if you’re not you’ve got to do the most off the pitch as well to support the lads going out on Saturday.

“Sometimes it’s down to injuries, and that’s something that happens in football. You don’t want to see any of your team-mates or your mates injured and not involved.

"But like the top teams, as we see with the likes of Liverpool, they’ve got injuries in their camp. It is unfortunately something that happens. But the quicker we can get the lads fit and out on the grass the better for us – it is healthy competition.

"You don’t need a rocket scientist to say we’ve been short. But it’s opportunity for other lads to come into the group and stamp their authority down. But it will be nice to get a few faces back."

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Next up for the Blues is that visit of Gillingham on Saturday.

“Like I say, we’ve talked already this week about not allowing one defeat to become two,” he told us. “Teams who are just going to do ok are happy to lose two on the trot, but great teams and good teams don’t let that happen.

“They may have lost, but it immediately becomes about what the reaction is going to be. You look at how you’re going to put your own stamp on things come the next game, and that’s what this week building up to the Gillingham game will be for us.

“The tempo in training today [Tuesday] was where we need it to be, and lads were getting after each other to keep the standard high. We didn’t have that on Saturday, so we have to put that right at the weekend.

“If you play football all you want is success, and that starts from a very young age. You play to win, and ultimately that’s what you’re judged off.

“If we were sat in the changing room as a group of players and we weren’t wanting to push for promotion and get Carlisle into League One then we’d just be kidding ourselves about wanting to do the job right.

“We know it’s a tough league to get out of, and there are 23 other teams who want the same, so we’ve got to take it week on week and see where we end up come May.

“And we want to keep the fans with us as well. We know what this place can be when it’s in full voice, and rightly so there were times last year when they weren’t happy.

“I’m a fan myself, and if my team wasn’t playing well, or it looked they weren’t at it, I’d be speaking up as well. We completely get that our fans pay their money to see a good performance, and that’s just one of the pressures that comes with playing.

“It’s one of those where if you don’t like that kind of pressure you’re not in the right sport. When we’re giving these fans something to cheer about this is a great place to be. We need to start helping the fans to make Brunton Park the kind of atmosphere so that teams fear us.

“I think you get respect from teams in terms of winning games and your league position, we know that, and maybe we were a little bit of a soft touch at times last year. I think people would look at the table and come here expecting to do a job on us.

“We knew, deep down, we weren’t a bad side and I think now it’s up to us to show that we’re serious contenders this season.”

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