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Sunday 11 December 2016

Paul Hyland: Martin O'Neill makes a bad call on Jack Grealish

Grealish future now up in the air after he turns down squad offer

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

WHEN the FAI hired Martin O'Neill, they got a great club manager but to make sure Jack Grealish plays for Ireland, they need a great international manager.

Grealish said 'No thanks' to O'Neill yesterday. He got a call from the Ireland manager in the morning asking him would he like to come over for the England/Scotland double header.

"It was my instinct to do it that way," said O'Neill, when asked why he left it so late.

READ MORE: Battle for Jack was lost over the phone

Why he decided to leave contact to the last minute is anyone's guess but it was his strategy, he took full ownership of that.

Perhaps if he had put in a call a year ago when he was trying to find bodies to fill seats for the trip to America, Ireland would be luxuriating in the knowledge that one of the best young talents in the Premier League would be ours for ten years.

"I spoke to Jack and his father and he didn't want to make his mind up at this stage. He wanted to complete the season at Aston Villa and make his decision sometime in the future.

READ MORE: Jack Grealish's dad: 'He would have turned down Roy Hodgson too'

"I'm disappointed but that's Jack's decision. I spoke to his father and said I would have liked to bring him in for these two games.

"I really don't know what he will do but I think there is still a strong possibility he will declare for us.

"At some stage Jack has got to make his mind up, that will be the message (from me) and not just personally but at club level too.

"With Jack born in England, his father born in England, I can understand why he might be interested. If England were to come calling, it might be hard to resist but I don't think they have been.

"I didn't want to put pressure on him but I thought it might be a brilliant end to the season for him. He might be walking in with an FA Cup medal in his pocket."

O'Neill used his gut feeling and instincts, honed by years as a club manager in England and Scotland, to manage the Grealish situation.

At a club he would have weeks, months and even years to map the progress of a bright young footballer. Unfortunately, that approach doesn't work in the international football transfer market and let's face it, that's what we're dealing in here.

In the normal course of events at any football club, at any level, in any country in the world, a precocious teenager is usually held back. The manager's instinct would be the same as a parent's. Too much too soon is never good for an impressionable young mind.

That was O'Neill's initial reaction to Grealish and it is clear from almost everything he has said since that his mind had not shifted from that position up to Aston Villa's first day out at Wembley this season, when they beat Liverpool.

At the very least, there are now serious questions to be asked about judgement. O'Neill made a mistake about Grealish and you have to wonder what Roy Keane was looking at during Aston Villa's training sessions?

Perhaps Keane couldn't see beyond his assessment of Grealish's father, which was as savage as it was inappropriate.

Neither O'Neill nor Keane thought he was good enough and even if you must back the manager's right to make his own destiny and choose his own squad, this is international football and a decision made now has consequences which can echo down through the years.

It shouldn't matter that Grealish has morphed from the being an object of breathless optimism in chatrooms to a star in a very short space of time.

When you are the Ireland senior international manager, you have to chase down every possible angle and this one was right under O'Neill and Keane's collective nose.

As the man said, fail to prepare . . .

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