Monday 11 December 2017

Jack Grealish move is a wake-up call for Ireland

Irish football cannot just hope to find another Jack

Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish
Martin O'Neill

RIGHT across Northern Ireland this morning, a batch of supporters of the team they call Our Wee Country were were chuckling over their Ulster Fry at the indignation down south.

Imagine that: a player who has come up through the underage ranks of an international team, who has travelled the world, faced the flag, worn the shirt and hummed the anthem, who has had time, money and commitment invested in him, and has now ,after all that, just at a time when his club career is taking off, decided to turn his back on that country and play for another nation, a country which offers him more lucrative opportunities and better chances of success.

Welcome to our world, you boys in the Free State.

Jack Grealish's 'defection' to England is to be welcomed, only in the sense that it has ended a 15-month saga over his international allegiance, and the two parties - Grealish and the FAI - can plan for life without each other. Martin O'Neill has surely breathed a sigh of relief over the fact that he won't be asked again if he is close to 'signing' Grealish for Ireland.

Joined together since he won his first youth cap in 2011, Grealish and Ireland have now divorced and he's moved on to a new partner, swapping the shamrock for the Three Lions.

Steven Reid played for England's youths but captained Ireland's seniors, Ciarán Clark also played underage football for the English but will next month have a big say in whether Ireland qualify for Euro 2016. Let's be grown up and not condemn Grealish to hell for choosing white over green.

Martin O'Neill

Martin O'Neill

It's not the end of the world. It's not the end of Irish football's long-term hopes. And it will happen again. We will gain and lose players. We will nick those Glasgow- and London-born lads who have Irish grannies and put them in a green jersey. Just as those in charge of Polish football will hope that some talented kid, who was born in Tallaght but has strong links to his parents' Poland, will play for them and not us.

Instead of launching vitriol on social media and on Joe Duffy's Liveline towards Grealish after this act of apostasy, Irish football needs to wise up and grow up now. There is competition at international level for talented youngsters, we have lost Grealish but gained a lot more.

Instead of blaming a 20-year-old for deciding to play for his native country, the place where he has lived, and is likely to live, all his life, Ireland needs to ask some serious questions. After all, Jack Grealish was never really ours. We just borrowed him for a few years and with tall tales from an ambitious agent in his ears, his head was turned.

The FAI AGM would be a good place to start. Instead of patting itself on the back for some momentous achievements, the Irish football family should be asking serious questions.

For starters, when was the last time an Irish-born teenager played in the English top flight? Depressingly, it was over three years ago, when Limerick lad Anthony Forde (now working his way back up the divisions, with Walsall) lined out for a Wolves side which was then relegated. When will we see an Irish-born teen in the Premier League again?

Why have there been more ex-Ireland international players on the staff of the England U19 squad (Lee Carsley) than in the FAI's underage coaching staff?


Why is there still such as disconnect between the schoolboy scene and the senior club scene here? Just three questions, but there are more.

It's doubtful that Scotland fans, hurt at seeing Glasgow boys Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy play in green instead of blue, will have any sympathy for us today.

And our friends in the North, still angered at having watched James McClean go off with Northern Ireland's U21s (and not a single one-night-stand but seven times), and then decide he wanted to be with someone else, will not worry about our hurt feelings.

Not every English-born footballer who declares for Ireland will do a Grealish. Players like Mick McCarthy, Kevin Kilbane, Rory Delap and Jon Walters had different routes to the Irish squad but their commitment never wavered. They may not have been offered a place in the senior England squad like Grealish, but even if they had been, it's hard to see any of them being interested.

In fact, some of those names were more committed than Irish-born players for certain trips.

If we are to have a chance in the future, we have to approach English-born kids like Grealish as a bonus: great if they do declare for us long-term, but not something we can rely on to sustain a successful international side.

We all - and that includes us in the media - have to end this embarrassing chase of players like Patrick Bamford, Harry Kane and Nathan Redmond, hoping they will take pity on us and declare for Ireland. We did that decades ago and shamed ourselves.


We have to stop scanning the squad lists of Northern Ireland squads and greedily eye up a Catholic-sounding name who could be lured south of the border.

We have a good scouting network, and people like Mark O'Toole, Noel King, Paul Doolin and Tom Mohan, among others, do a lot of unseen work to get players in from all areas, like Lukas Browning Lagerfeldt, the Swedish-born kid on duty with Mohan's Irish U17s this week.

You win some (James McCarthy) and lose some (Grealish). But you still need to ask the right questions.

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