herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

West Ham starlet Josh Cullen: I'm proud to pull on the green jersey and won't be tempted by England

HE's an exciting, attacking player, appearing for his club in the English Premier League as a teenager who declared for Ireland through his grandparents and plays for the Irish U21s.

West Ham prospect Josh Cullen has the same background and pedigree as Jack Grealish - but the key difference is that Cullen, in action for Ireland U21s against Lithuania in Waterford tonight, intends to stay in the Irish fold.

The current Ireland U21 player of the year, Grealish's was turned by whispers in his ear from England and he's now divorced himself from Ireland. But Cullen, who made his Premier League debut for his beloved West Ham earlier this season in a memorable win over Liverpool, is - and will be - an Irish player.

"I played for England at U16 level but I am playing for Ireland now and fully focused on that," London native Cullen told The Herald ahead of tonight's game against Lithuania, the live TV coverage (on Setanta) a rare chance for fans to see potential Irish stars like Cullen (eligible via his Leitrim grandparents) and Jack Byrne in action.

"Everyone is entitled to make a decision for themselves and Jack has made his decision, I can only speak for myself and say that I am fully focused on playing for Ireland and getting this team to the U21 finals in Poland.

"Jack has made his call and that's up to him, I am proud to play for Ireland every time I pull on the shirt. I know my dad's very proud to see me play, he hopes to come over to this game tonight, it's such a proud moment for me to pull on that green shirt and represent my grandparents," says Cullen.

"Both of my grandparents on my dad's side are Irish, they were from Co Leitrim and moved over to England, where my dad was born.

"They have both passed away, unfortunately, but it's a very proud thing for me to be able to play for Ireland, every time I pull on that green jersey I play for them and think about my grandparents. I haven't been to Leitrim yet but I am on my dad's case to take me there," he joked.

He paid a visit to Waterford this week as that's the venue for the Lithuania game, the first in a double header which also takes the side to Italy next week.

"We have big tests now against Lithuania and Italy but if we can get two good results we will have a good chance of qualification," says the 19-year-old.

"We can put in big performances and we want to be the first Irish side to reach the U21 finals, if we can win at home against Lithuania we will go to Italy in a great mood."

ireland v LITHUANIA live setanta irl (ko 5.45)

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