Wednesday 7 December 2016

Stephen Hunt: Sometimes you can feel like the poor relation as an Ireland international

Sometimes the pitfalls of playing for your country outweigh the benefits

Published 07/06/2015 | 11:00

A call-up for Jack Grealish would be bigger news in Ireland than it would be in England
A call-up for Jack Grealish would be bigger news in Ireland than it would be in England

There are plenty of hurdles a player must overcome in his career but one they often don't see coming is an international call-up. Why would you see it as an obstacle? It's a great achievement, a reward for you and your family, as well as everyone who has believed in you.

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It's something to celebrate and savour. A time to reflect on what you have achieved.

That's how it should be seen, but when you get called up into an England squad, it doesn't always work out like that.

Perhaps it's different at Manchester United or Chelsea, but an England call-up for a player at Reading or Wolves becomes a big story, and with the big story comes big attention.

Often a player has been a bit of an unknown before that but at about the same time as he's getting his call-up for the England squad, scouts have been watching him, they've started to figure him out. Teams now know what he's going to do.

So they get tighter on him, they know his weaknesses, they exploit them and everything suddenly becomes tougher. At the same time people are expecting more from this England international. The crowds want something special, a touch of class, a bit of skill and there are more demands.

So a player might suddenly not look like the player he was, but he's still doing the same things except some of them have been figured out, and some of the others aren't as impressive as they once were now that he's an England player and people have such high hopes.

Soon they start saying that the minute he got the call-up, he got lazy. 'It turned his head,' they'll say, when the player is still doing the same things but those things are no longer enough. Now he starts thinking more about them. Maybe he needs to work harder, maybe the critics are right, maybe he has got complacent. So he stops doing the things he was doing before he got the call-up and starts doing something else instead. He tries to alter his game but that doesn't work either.

There is a level of expectation around an England player which doesn't exist for an Ireland player. I think nearly every Irish player called into an international squad sees it as a great achievement and keeps going. In part, this is because few people in England are that concerned with the Ireland squad and the player is able to get on with things.

They might be if Jack Grealish gets a call-up but even that would be bigger news in Ireland than it is England. For the most part, it doesn't become the burden it is for some at England.

There are also not the distractions. An England international can start to think about the commercial benefits that come with being an England international. They get contracts on the back of it and they can sometimes be rewarded too easily. They can get big money for personal appearances and nobody would begrudge them but it can feed into the idea that they've made it.

When Matt Jarvis got his call-up while we were at Wolves, everybody started talking about him. The big clubs were said to be interested in him and people really wanted to see what he'd do next. I was in competition for a place with him but he was the next great hope of English football or maybe of Midlands football. Either way, he was good news for the club. They had an England player who the public wanted to see. It made it difficult for me.

People see England internationals as something special and others might not see them the same way. Roy Keane was asked on Friday if the England players respected Irish players. He said they did but sometimes you can feel like the poor relation as an Ireland international. You have the same feelings of pride, you have worked as hard to get there, and people are dismissive. It's why today's game won't feel like a friendly.

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