Ronnie Whelan shot to prominence as 'the Milk Cup kid' in the early eighties thanks to his match-winning performances in successive final victories over Tottenham and Manchester United and went on to be a pivotal figure in the Liverpool team that took football domination in this country to previously unscaled heights.
A cultured left-sided midfield player, Whelan had spent three summers training with Manchester United as a youngster but when he finally moved across the Irish Sea on a permanent basis it was to take up residence on Merseyside. He arrived as a fresh-faced rookie in 1979 after catching the eye of Liverpool's scouts while playing for his local side Home Farm. Manager of the time Bob Paisley viewed him as 'one for the future' and immediately despatched him into the club's all-conquering reserve set-up, where Roy Evans was entrusted to help nurture the young Dubliner's precocious midfield talents.
Even at this level, competition for places was intense and, at first, he vied for the left-midfield berth with fellow youngster Kevin Sheedy. Before long, however, Whelan was knocking on the door of the first team and when an injury to Ray Kennedy provided him with a rare opportunity for a senior outing he didn't disappoint, netting early on in his debut as Stoke were beaten in a Friday night fixture in front of the Kop.
With Kennedy soon moving on Whelan seized his chance and finally established himself as a regular in the first eleven during the 1981/82 season. It was to be a campaign of great change at Anfield as Paisley blooded several youngsters but it was to end on a glorious high for Whelan and the team. It has long since passed into Kop folklore how, on his first appearance beneath the twin towers, he almost single-handedly turned the League Cup Final against Tottenham in Liverpool's favour, netting twice as the Reds came from behind to record a famous 3-1 triumph. And if this was not enough, he followed that up by getting his name on the scoresheet against the same opposition as the title was clinched and before deservedly walked away with the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Incredibly, Whelan repeated his Wembley heroics the following year when his sublimely curled effort past Gary Bailey secured another League (Milk) Cup success. But still, he failed to receive the acclaim that was afforded to some of his more famous team-mates. Not that it bothered him. In typical Liverpool fashion Whelan got on with his job. Late equalising goals in FA Cup semi-finals against Man United and Portsmouth further confirmed his reputation as a man for the big occasion. Tigerish in the tackle and possessing an impressive range of passing he remained a consistent performer as trophy after trophy was adorned with red and white ribbons. His qualities were highly valued by the Liverpool management and in 1989 he was the number one choice to take over the captaincy from Alan Hansen.
In his latter years at the club Whelan switched to a more central midfield role but injuries began to take their toll and his effectiveness was reduced. In 1994 he finally called time on a glorious 15 years at Anfield to embark on a brief career in management but is always given a warm welcome when returning to his spiritual home.
Whelan made a massive contribution to the club's majestic triumphs under Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish in the 1980's winning six League title medals, three FA Cup, a European Cup and three Milk Cup medals.
Whelan emulated his father, Ronnie senior, by representing the Republic of Ireland, for whom he won 53 caps. He left Anfield in 1994 to manage Southend, followed by a spell in charge of Greek club Panionios and then Olympiakos Nicosia of Cyprus.
He now works as a media pundit with Al Jazeera TV, RTE TV Sport and the Evening Herald.