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O'NEILL'S eyes on villa park

IF Martin O'Neil believes that Shay Given is the best choice to kick off the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as Ireland's first choice goalkeeper, he should start him against Georgia.

But it would be a sharp reminder that O'Neill is tied to Ireland's past by pragmatism and a kick in the teeth for David Forde who hasn't done much wrong.

If O'Neill has doubts, though, about the man who waited behind Given for a long time, or even about the men in reserve should Forde suffer a knock, there is no sensible reason not to call in the Aston Villa No. 2 netminder.

He started against Orient in the Capitol Cup so presumably Roy Keane has had a very good view of how fit and how sharp he is.

Talk of guarantees for Given seem mildly ridiculous. He's hardly in the ideal bargaining position. He needs a move badly and the timing of this little pulse of publicity puts him back in the public eye again with the clock ticking down towards Monday's transfer deadline.

It's been a long time since Villa Park held any great interest to followers of Ireland but right now, there is a sharp spotlight on Paul Lambert's operation.

Given, used to being the No. 1 for most of his playing career, however, is just the sub-plot to the story developing around Jack Grealish and England's pursuit of him.


Follow Grealish's recent twitter feed and there is no mention of the dilemma he currently faces. He was rooting for England in an understated kind of way during the World Cup but he was born there after all so why wouldn't he?

His meeting with Martin O'Neill was under the radar and it is obvious that the Ireland management team want a low key approach to a lad who is, by all accounts, uncomfortable with any fuss.

O'Neill must have been offering something a bit more solid than a continuing run in the Under 21s which seems to be the best England are willing to deliver right now. Perhaps a place in the Euro 2016 squad?

Roy Hodgson's latest panel is packed with young players and new names for a nothing friendly against Norway which is attracting thin interest from paying customers. That would have been a good opportunity to invite Grealish in but he didn't.

It might be too soon for Hodgson to consider a precocious teenager with a scattering of Premier League minutes in his legs but O'Neill has different needs.

He has underlined the fact that the hoped for discovery of a hidden talent in the nine months since he was appointed has not arrived.

Initially, O'Neill appeared taken aback by that fact and perhaps a bit underwhelmed by the next generation coming through until he corrected himself and dangled the possibility that fresh legs might emerge from the Diaspora.

Maybe he had Grealish in mind. An impressive start to the season and a serious buzz around Villa Park has accelerated matters.

The unmentioned hope since Keane was confirmed as Villa No. 2 was that a by-product of his appointment would be perfect positioning to keep an eye on Grealish and if needed, offer an alternative to the love-bombing apparently under way from Gareth Southgate, another Villa man and the current England Under 21 boss.

If it was down to a fight between Keane and Southgate, there's only one winner there but this is a more delicate arena than a football pitch or a television studio.


Seriously, though, the premium on talent has never been greater and if you run a finger down the latest England Under 21 squad list, in amongst a multi-ethnic group of names you'll find Liam Moore, Tom Carroll, Michael Keane and Harry Kane.

Michael Keane wore green before switching and Harry Kane has long been mentioned as a possible recruit. Not so long ago, they might have been in Noel King's squad.

Up until recently, the English FA have never held anything more than a sense of patronising indifference to the FAI's interest in ancestry and if we're honest, they didn't let many slip through their net.

Lads like Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, even back to Kevin Keegan never really had a choice to make. There were a few notable exceptions, Mark Lawrenson, Steve Heighway and John Aldridge spring to mind but mostly we got cast-offs. That wasn't a bad deal. We got Chris Hughton, Andy Townsend, Aldo and many others.

In this generation, Grealish is causing a stir because the talent pool has shrunk to such a degree that the EFA is as active as the FAI in targeting promising young teens and giving them extra attention.

If O'Neill did offer the immediate prospect of promotion straight into senior international competitive football and Grealish hedged, their approach is having an impact, a very worrying development for the future.