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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Battle for Jack was lost over the phone

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill speaking at a squad announcement
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill speaking at a squad announcement

THE timeline of the events which left everyone scratching their head and wondering whether the fight to win Jack Grealish's heart had been lost kicked off with a mid-morning phone call between Martin O'Neill and the Premier League's hottest young star.

Within hours, all bets were off and O'Neill was left looking confused and uncomfortable.

For those of us waiting for the press conference to start, the moment worried FAI staff began to scurry from room to room at the SSE Airtricity HQ, it was obvious that something had gone badly wrong.

The first steer hacks got about Grealish came last week and insisted that nothing would happen and that Martin O'Neill's thoughts remained the same.

He would not be named in this squad and that September would be the earliest anyone might expect some clarity. about which colour shirt he would finally declare for.

But overnight and before O'Neill rolled up to announce his squad for the England/Scotland double-header in June, something changed and the word was as strong as it could be that Grealish was in.

According to Grealish's father Kevin, O'Neill contacted him yesterday morning and made the offer for Jack to join up with the Ireland squad. But we now know from the man himself that no offer was ever going to be accepted.

By midday, when the scheduled squad announcement was due to start, O'Neill still hadn't arrived and by then he was in conversation with Grealish and his father.

Speculation now suggests that there was another phone call between O'Neill and Kevin Grealish on Monday evening during which a deal was struck and it was agreed that Jack would join up with the Ireland squad in Dublin in June.

However, Kevin Grealish is adamant that an approach from England would also have been rejected and that the status quo remains in place. He mentioned no further phone contact with O'Neill.

plans

O'Neill does not believe that Roy Hodgson has any plans to make such an approach but that he has not discussed Grealish with him.

"I've had no chat with Roy. He is entitled to do whatever he wants, I think he sees the same things as I do, and if he doesn't think he's ready for England and I think he doesn't . . ." said O'Neill, his voice tailing off.

O'Neill does not bel ieve that Roy Keane's ill-judged outburst about Kevin Grealish had any impact on the matter and was no an issue.

"No, I think he would have taken that in a jocular manner," said O'Neill.

Quizzed about the role of Kevin Grealish in his son's career and whether he was perhaps too big an influence, O'Neill kicked for touch.

"I think it would be unfair to give a definitive answer on that one ."

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