Thursday 29 September 2016

Irish blood loses out to English heart as Jack finally ends farcical love triangle

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

Jack Grealish playing for Ireland Under-21s in 2014
Jack Grealish playing for Ireland Under-21s in 2014

Well, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Not at the news that one of the finer prospects to emerge in the Premier League this season has decided to declare for England, of course. Rather, there's a sense of closure now that we can put the whole will he/won't he saga to bed.

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Jack Grealish issued a statement this week, saying: "I have decided to give my allegiance to England. It was not an easy decision as Ireland has a special place with me through my family. However, I have decided to declare for the country of my birth."

Hindsight is always 20/20, but in this instance his statement merely confirmed what most sober observers had long suspected: if he was going to declare for us, he would have done it already.

The longer this increasingly farcical and undignified love triangle between Jack Grealish, the FAI and the FA continued, the more the prospect of him declaring for us receded.

Even the normally unflappable Roy Hodgson seemed to succumb to the frenzy over the winger, declaring in uncharacteristically undiplomatic terms that Grealish had only a "tenuous connection to Ireland" - despite having Irish-born grandparents on both sides of the family, as well as playing Gaelic football as a kid.

Oh, and the 20 caps he picked up from schoolboy to Under-21 level.

Anyone who watched Grealish play for the Under-21s against Germany would have seen a midfielder who looked head and shoulders above his team-mates and was, arguably, the best player on the pitch. But even then there were doubts about whether he wanted to stake his claim for a permanent green jersey or whether he was simply passing time until England came calling.

While the reaction to Monday's announcement was largely philosophical, the mob still wanted its pound of flesh and so we saw endless social media attacks, cartoons and slurs against a kid who has now been denounced, in some circles, as a traitor to the country.

The fact that Ireland isn't actually his country seems to be too complex a concept for some to understand, but the bile directed against him has been building for some time. We like to delude ourselves that we're the best fans in the world, but the Keanes, Robbie and Roy, know what it's like when they take a turn against you.

Both of those players, after all, found themselves on the business end of a good kicking from the fans - Roy for Saipan, and Robbie for apparently not caring enough, which was both demonstrably untrue and deeply unfair, even if that interview on 'The Late Late Show' during the dying days of the Trapattoni regime did little to assuage the naysayers.

Of course, this doomed love affair is about more than a promising young player; it's about that barely hidden belligerence which pokes its ugly head above the parapet whenever the Irish think they are being dissed - particularly when England is involved.

There can be few people more emotionally needy and fragile than the Irish. You see it any time a big act plays in Dublin and the singer remembers to look at his set list to remind him what city he's in, before bellowing 'hello Ireland' to rapturous, insecure applause.

Basically, we're like Sally Field at the 1985 Oscars, trilling "you like me, right now, you really like me", but when that's not reciprocated, we become more Annie Wilkes - full of snarling resentment and wounded pride.

Many of us have relatives in Birmingham, particularly around areas like Grealish's native Solihull and while there is a large and thriving Irish community, it is still an English city.

So while he may have played a bit of Gaelic football and knows the lyrics to a few Wolfe Tones songs, he is, in every meaningful way, English.

Let's flip things on their head for a moment, and finally slay the idea that the English somehow stole our brightest prospect in the latest example of their colonial thievery.

We have always been happy to offer shelter to England's cast-offs, but recent years have also seen us plunder the most promising Northern Irish youth internationals, such as Marc Wilson and James McClean, while plenty of Scotland fans will be entitled to think this is poetic justice for the way we swiped James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady from under their noses.

While we may have a strong scouting network dedicated to securing the services of the best youth players we can find, that often involves stepping on some toes.

The rules of citizenship and eligibility have changed immeasurably in the last few years and when you see players like Adnan Januzaj eligible to play for four different countries before he plumped for Belgium, it's clear that this is a scenario which will become more common.

There is a genuine case for making an Under-21 cap the cut-off, but until that happens we just have to accept that you win some, you lose some.

That may turn international football into a grotesque parody of the bidding wars we see in club football, but whingeing about a kid who went with his English heart over his Irish blood makes all of us look daft.

Irish Independent

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