With the new league season almost upon us, the Club’s coaching staff has been working over-time to finalise their squad, with latest recruit Tom Whelan providing further expertise at fly-half.
With Robbie Shaw and Mickey Wilson both arriving over the course of the summer, Whelan becomes the third new half-back, albeit more likely to be utilised exclusively at fly-half, compared with the versatility of the former pair.
Arriving from Sidmouth Rugby Club, Devon born Whelan was with GKIPA Championship outfit Plymouth Albion at the beginning of last term, before going on to feature for Devon in the Bill Beaumont Cup.
A year in New Zealand, where he played for Eden-Roskill, saw the 23-year-old emerge as one to watch, and it wasn’t long before one of the south west’s big boys in Albion came calling.
However, the very fact that Whelan is engaging in any sort of physical activity, let alone playing rugby at such a high level, is something of a blessing for the now part-time personal trainer.
A seemingly innocuous bump on the head in a training session with Sidmouth proved to be the start of a nightmare for Whelan.
After complaining of numbness that refused to disappear, he was referred to neurologists for specialist treatment, undergoing countless tests, but, after being unable to identify a specific ailment, doctors simply told the Sidmouth College educated youngster just to rest.
Two weeks off at the start of the 2010-2011 season should have been enough, but the same symptoms rose as before and, with no diagnosis in sight, Whelan was advised to stay away from the game.
A year on the sidelines followed but, just before the start of 2011-2012, a physio working with Whelan eventually got to the bottom of the problem, allowing his client to finally make a return – leaving the Esher newcomer chomping at the bit.
“The injury was bizarre, but what followed was absolutely horrendous and I would wish that year and a half I went through, on nobody,” he said.
“It’s all behind me now, and I’m pumped to get going and start playing again, week in, week out. I love the game and I’ve missed the buzz that you get on a matchday – it’s something I’ve relished in pre-season.
“There are a lot of ambitious people at Esher, and that’s something that struck a chord with me straightaway. It didn’t quite happen for me at Plymouth, but I learnt a lot, and I believe it’s made me a better player now.
“The three games we’ve had so far have provided a gentle ease in, but the real business starts on Saturday, and I’m glad to know I’ll be playing my rugby somewhere where I know I’ll not only have a lot of fun, but will hopefully be successful also.
Standing at 5’11”, the rangy Whelan is a regular on the sevens circuit, but wants to show off his skills in the 15-a-side game to a wider audience.
“I thrive on the pressure of playing at 10, and that’s something that gets my blood pumping right from kick off,” commented Whelan, who turned 24 on Thursday.
“If I had to describe my game, I’d say I’m predominantly a running ten, and playing ‘heads up’ rugby is something that, as a group, we are very keen on doing.
“There’s a lot of experience around me, though, and to play with guys like Tom Cheeseman and Anders Mogensen will only make my job easier.”