Sunday 11 December 2016

'Jack made his own decision' - Kevin Grealish on his son's international choice

John Fallon

Published 29/09/2015 | 02:30

Fourteen-year-old Jack Grealish pictured alongside his father Kevin after he made his debut for Ireland U15s against Northern Ireland in Kilternan in 2009
Fourteen-year-old Jack Grealish pictured alongside his father Kevin after he made his debut for Ireland U15s against Northern Ireland in Kilternan in 2009

As the saga surrounding Jack Grealish's international future closed yesterday, his father claimed the decision to choose England was based purely on personal reasons.

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The former Ireland U-21 winger ended a year-long period in self-imposed international exile by opting to accept Roy Hodgson's invitation to challenge for a place in his squad for next summer's European Championships.

As the formal request for FIFA to process the changeover has yet to be submitted, the Aston Villa playmaker cannot make his debut in England's concluding Euro qualifiers against Estonia and Lithuania in a fortnight.

More likely, should the paperwork be fast-tracked, is the 20-year-old being handed his bow in the friendly against Spain in Alicante on November 13.

Speculation of an imminent decision on his future intensified over the weekend, with England the clear favourites, and Aston Villa confirmed the development at lunchtime.

Statement

There immediately followed a brief statement from the player himself which read: "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 represent my country of birth."

By that stage, the player's father, Kevin Grealish, had informed O'Neill of the decision, explaining that his son had agonised for months over it.

"Martin was the first person I phoned yesterday morning," said Grealish Sr.

"We only knew for sure in the last few days so it was important Martin heard it first from us. In fairness to him, while he was disappointed, Martin wished Jack all the best in his future career.

"So did Noel King and Mark O'Toole, two of the FAI staff whom Jack has enjoyed working with over the past five years.

"Jack had a lot of thinking to do after meeting both Martin O'Neill and Roy Hodgson during the summer. It wasn't myself, his agent or his Aston Villa manager, Tim Sherwood, who made this decision.

"We all gave Jack the time and space to choose for himself and we'll support him in his decision.

"Twice in the past, Jack turned down the chance of switching to England at underage level. But he was only a kid then and we agreed together that staying with Ireland was the best decision in both cases.

"This situation was completely different. Jack is now 20 and should be making his own decisions, especially as it impacts on the rest of his career.

"He's born and raised in England. His Irish connections on both sides of the family are well known and the country will always hold a special place to him. But he's made up his mind and that decision should be respected."

O'Neill had twice met with the player in the past 13 months in a bid to retain his services but valid questions may resurface about the Derry man's handling of such a sensitive case.

In May 2013, after Grealish had shown his class for Ireland U-21s and made his Premier League debut at Manchester City, O'Neill could have drafted the rookie into his panel for the two friendlies in the United States.

The teen was unquestionably dedicated to the Irish cause at that point and would have embedded further had he spent the week Stateside training with the senior players.

Although a debut cap in either of the games against Costa Rica or Portugal wouldn't have secured his allegiance, as it wasn't competitive action, the prospects of him jumping ship thereafter were considered non-existent.

Instead, as Grealish's profile grew at club level, he opted for a sabbatical from international football, offering England a window during which to mount a charm offensive.

Bizarrely, despite the player requesting the year off, O'Neill then tried to include him in the squad for the June friendly against his homeland of England.

That botched attempt merely succeeded in attracting adverse social media reaction towards Grealish and his family, an incident which didn't go down well in Solihull.

Irish Independent

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