The Quiet Genius
Left to mature in United’s reserve team, Whelan quickly became known for his prolific goalscoring, magnetic ball control, and exceptional stamina. Two years after his move to United, he made his debut in a 2-0 win over Preston North End. His pinpoint accuracy ensured that by the 1956/57 season, Whelan was a regular in the first team. He scored 52 goals in just 98 matches and set a club record which remained unbroken for almost 50 years when he scored in eight consecutive League games.
Whelan won four caps playing for the Republic of Ireland. His final two international appearances, against England, saw Whelan face off against many of his United teammates. A sportsman’s bet between him and Duncan Edwards saw the Irishman nutmeg his rival – a move which was something of a specialty.
Off the pitch, Whelan was a quiet and devout Catholic who was very close to his family, sending a quarter of his weekly wage home to his mother. On his regular trips home, he could still be called upon to play football in the street, once joking that he had won at Dalymount and in the local park on the same day.
Upon first moving to Manchester, the Irishman lived in digs with a number of his teammates. Homesickness got the better of him, however, and he moved in with a family friend.
At the time of his death, Whelan had been planning marriage to his girlfriend Ruby, due to take place the following June. He died instantly and it was estimated that 20,000 people lined the streets at his funeral procession through Dublin, and the city came to a standstill.