Monday 5 December 2016

Vincent Hogan: Time for Grealish to decide on nationality, not a consolation prize

Published 13/05/2015 | 02:30

Grealish has already indicated his intention to play for Ireland’s U-21s in a UEFA qualifier on September 8 and it seems, unless Hodgson intervenes in the interim, this saga will still have legs then
Grealish has already indicated his intention to play for Ireland’s U-21s in a UEFA qualifier on September 8 and it seems, unless Hodgson intervenes in the interim, this saga will still have legs then

There comes a point in every strained courtship - and we are surely in that vicinity here - where it is no longer dignified to continue.

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The word yesterday was that Jack Grealish "didn't want to make his mind up at this stage" which, translated, you would have to suspect means that he already has.

Jack is, palpably, waiting for Roy Hodgson. This is his right, given that he has spent his entire time on this planet living in England, being schooled in England, growing up with English friends.

Professional football is class-ridden at every level of the game and, in this instance, when Jack weighs up the attractions of playing for the land of his birth or that of his grandparents, the cold truth is that one probably has far more to offer him than the other.

What he doesn't know, of course, is whether the cold traditionalist in Hodgson will bend to the rising media clamour for including Grealish in a senior England squad.

To that end, old Roy might even be Ireland's best chance here. But the bottom line of all this equivocation is that young Jack, if given the choice, will go with Hodgson above Martin O'Neill.

DIALOGUE

And that's not a good starting point for the Irish management.

We don't know for sure if the delay to yesterday's press-conference was down to any last-minute dialogue between O'Neill and Grealish's father, Kevin.

But what we do know is that the Irish manager sees something in Grealish today that he wasn't entirely confident of seeing a few months back.

Under Tim Sherwood, the kid has flourished at Aston Villa in a way that seemed unimaginable under the stewardship of Paul Lambert.

As Lambert's assistant for five months, Roy Keane had daily access to Grealish's talent, yet - presumably - shared the view that he was not ready for sustained first-team action.

Now, after a necklace of impressive starts under Sherwood, the Irish view has altered so dramatically, we are led to believe that young Grealish was offered the option of just playing in the upcoming friendly against England and sitting out the Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland so as not to tie him down to anything.

Is there not something slapstick about that? About the notion that he might be comfortable playing against the land of his birth in such circumstances, given the inevitable media clamour that decision would trigger?

To be fair to O'Neill, he did invite Grealish in to train with the senior Irish squad last September but the invitation was declined.

In the meantime, Keane has chosen to toss a few verbal grenades in the direction of the player's father, irked - it seemed - by a sense that Grealish's indecision might not entirely have been his own.

The rumour yesterday was that with an FA Cup final appearance pending, it may even have been Sherwood who persuaded Grealish to decline this call-up to the Irish squad.

Either way, the spectacle of a 19-year-old footballer keeping our senior international management at arm's length is beginning to grate more than is entirely comfortable now.

O'Neill was right to seek Grealish's inclusion in the squad for the England and Scotland games, wrong if - as indicated - he offered to bend that invitation into a further extension of this silly 'will he, won't he?' foxtrot.

Grealish has already indicated his intention to play for Ireland's U-21s in a UEFA qualifier on September 8 and it seems, unless Hodgson intervenes in the interim, this saga will still have legs then.

The pity here, surely, is that Ireland's senior management wasn't more vigorous in its pursuit of a luminously gifted player who, given Keane's previous position at Villa, had to be known intimately to them.

Instead, there is the sense of them changing tack now at a time when young Grealish is being broadly championed for an England call-up.

He is, I understand, a popular kid, thoughtful and hugely liked within the Irish U-21 set-up. Trouble is, his story radiates the sense now of waiting for something better to materialise.

Are we a country or a consolation prize?

Irish Independent

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