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A dog’s life for birthday boy Isaac!

But Whitehall, who turns 18 today, has had plenty to celebrate at Rovers in recent months

29 March 2020

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For most, turning 18 is a special milestone in any young person’s life.

But due to the ongoing problems caused by the Coronavirus outbreak, Rovers Under-18s captain Isaac Whitehall insists ‘it will just be another day’.

So how will the talented teenager be celebrating his big day?

“I’ll just be sat at home really,” said the versatile defender. “No family can come round, so it will just be me, my mum, my dad and my sister. I’ll probably take the dog out for a walk!”

But Whitehall has had plenty to celebrate already this year.

After signing his first professional contract with the club in January, Whitehall has skippered the Under-18s through to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.

He has also helped Rovers Under-23s reach a second successive final in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup, as well as the knockout stages of the Premier League Cup.

And to top off a memorable few months, the highly-rated youngster received a maiden call-up by his country just a few weeks ago.

So we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up with the young defender, who is currently recovering from a minor hamstring injury, and find out how he is coping with life in lockdown.

“I’m well,” he said. “Obviously you’re limited as to what you can do outside, with all the gyms being closed and things like that, but I’ve been getting out on my bike a lot and doing a home gym programme, just to keep myself ticking over.

“With being injured at the minute, (physio) Sam Kelly has put together some information of what I can and can’t do, so I’ve mainly just been out on the bike a lot. I can’t go running yet.

“My recovery shouldn’t be too long now. The injury has probably come at a good time, with everything that’s going on, so when we’re allowed back at the training ground, I hope that I’d be close to being back or if not back, which is good.”

And Whitehall will be desperate to get back to full fitness when football resumes, with an FA Youth Cup semi-final at home to Manchester City to look forward to on the players’ return.

Following victories over Newport County (3-1), Charlton Athletic (1-0) and Preston North End (4-2), Rovers’ young guns produced an outstanding performance to defeat Arsenal 4-1 at Ewood Park in the quarter-finals and book their place in the last four.

Whitehall insists the remarkable cup run has been enjoyable to be part of, for both players and staff, and he doesn’t want it to end.

“As everyone knows, it’s been amazing,” he added. “Everyone is so happy that we’ve done well and we want to keep going with it.

“We want to finish strongly, in the game against Manchester City, and then who knows, we could be in the final.

“It’s just been surreal really. There’s been a belief that we could do well in it, because of the way we’ve played at times shows that and shows how well we can play when we’re on our game.

“It has been a little bit surreal that we’ve got this far, but now we’re all taking it in our stride. It would be amazing for everyone involved at the club if we could go one step further and get to the final. The feeling it would bring to all the lads and all the coaches would be brilliant.

“The Arsenal game is as good a team performance as I’ve ever been involved in. From the first minute to the last minute, every one of the lads put everything into the game. We were on top for the whole of the game and we were just happy to get the win.”

Rovers have been at home in every round so far and Whitehall admits it is an honour to lead out the team in front of the fans at Ewood Park.

“Each time you step out on Ewood, captaining the team, it’s a proud moment, but then you’ve got to go and get the job done,” he said.

“You start to relax a bit during the game, but it’s a proud moment each time you step out onto the pitch.”

There have been many other proud moments for Whitehall and his family of late, not least signing a first professional contact in January, which will keep him at the club until at least the summer of 2022.

“Signing my pro, that was a very proud moment for me and my family,” added Whitehall, who has been at the club since joining from Barrow as an Under-13.

“All the hard work I’ve put in and all the hard my parents have put in, taking me back and forth to football, that was a big thing for me.

“In terms of my progress, there’s always room for improvement, but I feel happy at the minute and I want to just keep moving forward and keep looking towards the future.”

Whitehall’s progress at club level hasn’t gone unnoticed and he received international recognition for the first time earlier this month.

The teenager was called up to the Republic of Ireland Under-18 squad for their international friendlies against Belgium at Guiseley Town, which was meant to be played today, and against England at York City on Tuesday.

And despite the games being postponed due to the pandemic, Whitehall is looking forward to a bright future for both club and country.

“Any time you get something like that, you’re very proud,” he added.

“You’re proud to go out and represent your country. Obviously, on this occasion, I wasn’t able to, but it was still a proud moment (being called up) and hopefully the games will get rearranged and I can go and play.

“As much as you want everybody to be safe and things like that, I can’t wait to get back out there and start again. Just playing games and being at the club every day. I can’t wait for it.”

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