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Whelehan proud of UEFA Regions' Cup record

"I will keep coming back for more," beamed Eastern Region IRL's stricken Ray Whelehan as he revelled in holding the appearance record in the top amateur competition.

Ray Whelehan celebrates reaching the 2011 UEFA Regions' Cup final
Ray Whelehan celebrates reaching the 2011 UEFA Regions' Cup final ©Sportsfile

No one knows the UEFA Regions' Cup quite like Eastern Region IRL midfielder Ray Whelehan; with 27 appearances, the Tolka Rovers FC man has played more games in the world's top amateur competition than anyone else. Having helped steer his side through qualifying, the 31-year-old electrician has been robbed of the chance to play at this summer's finals by a cruciate injury, but he knows it will be a special occasion for his colleagues and all the teams involved.

UEFA.com: What does the UEFA Regions' Cup mean to you?

Ray Whelehan: It means everything to play in it. You put in a lot of effort over the season, all the training and all the travel, and getting to play in the UEFA Regions' Cup makes it all worthwhile. At our level, I don't think you could play in a better tournament.

UEFA.com: What past tournament stands out for you?

Whelehan: The finals in Portugal in 2011 were the big one – it was an incredible ten days. We got our rewards by getting to the final where we lost narrowly to the hosts. I first played in qualifying in Bosnia in 2004; I had just turned 21 and managed to make the squad. I'm 31 now but I run around as if I was 21.

UEFA.com: Is it a big deal for the Irish players to be competing on home soil?

Whelehan: It will be good for our families that they can watch us play without the expense and hassle of travelling. My father comes to every home game – even though I am 31, it's like I was 12 the way we speak after the match.

My mother, wife and mother-in-law came to see me play in Portugal in 2011 and the tournament was a nice excuse for them to get away. I don't know what everyone's families will do now my team are playing in Ireland – a week in a hotel in Dublin maybe! Whoever is lucky enough to make the squad will have great support from family and friends.

UEFA.com: Was professional football ever an option for you?

Whelehan at the 2009 finals
Whelehan at the 2009 finals©Sportsfile

Whelehan: At the start of my career, the option was there to play in the League of Ireland at a semi-pro level but a couple of things stopped me. I am a self-employed electrician now but at the time, when I was 19 or 20, I was starting an apprenticeship, so the demands of playing professionally would have been very high on my time. Also, I had broken into the squad with the amateur international team for the UEFA Regions' Cup and I knew that if I played at professional level for a club I would not be able to play in future Regions' Cups. So the next level for me was the international side at amateur level – I knew that standard was still very high and I have learned how to compete at that level.

UEFA.com: Ireland's representatives are called Eastern Region IRL but do the team feel that they are representing their country?

Whelehan: Absolutely – we are playing for Ireland when we play in these matches. I know it's called amateur level by people outside the game, but to me this is the highest level we can play at and represent our country. I could not be happier when I pull on that green jersey as I know I am representing my country – I am very proud to be part of that.

UEFA.com: Is it an honour to hold the record for appearances in the UEFA Regions' Cup?

Whelehan: I don't keep tabs of all my games because I don't want to be one to gloat – when people ask how many caps I have, I say 'a few'. But I was blown away when I heard that I had the record. And I will keep coming back for more.

UEFA.com: How do you rate Eastern Region IRL's chances in the finals?

Whelehan: I know from past Regions' Cup experience that it will be a very tough tournament – the standard is very high. You tend not to get one team that dominates the group, but if we can get a positive result from the first game we have a chance of getting to the final. We are not in awe of the continental sides as we have been here before and we have experience.