Sport Soccer

Monday 18 December 2017

Don't sell our soul for sloppy seconds

Eamonn Sweeney

And now time for our new series, Fantastic Heartwarming News To Make You Feel Really Good About Life. We'll kick off with something so uplifting it'll make you forget the existence of the IMF, world poverty and that Katherine Lynch series on RTE2.

No, not the appointment of Leo Varadkar as Minister for Sport. Or the news, thank you Aertel, that Neil Jenkins has 'hailed Ronan O'Gara as a legend of the game'. Something even better than that.

Jermaine Pennant wants to play for Ireland. Do you realise what this means? Exactly, it means that we could soon be enjoying the services of the third best Jermaine in the Premier League. Pennant isn't as good as Defoe or Jenas but he probably shades it over Beckford. Then again Beckford has scored six goals in 21 Premier League games this season while Pennant hasn't scored at all in the same number of appearances. But, hey, the fourth best Jermaine in the Premier League. What's not to like?

He stacks up pretty well in the Jermaine rankings does our new recruit. Pennant will undoubtedly do a better job for us than Jermaine Jackson or Germaine Greer. And he probably has the edge over '80s soul star Jermaine Stewart though, in fairness, Stewart's dancing on the video of We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off To Have A Good Time displays both fancy footwork and athletic ability. Maybe that's another DVD Trap should check out.

But back to Jermaine Pennant. Perhaps the best thing about our latest potential recruit is that he's always given 100 per cent. Not to football admittedly but let's not be harsh. Here's a guy whose Irish heritage really matters to him. That's why he says, "I'd love to play for England but it's just never happened." You can't ask for more than that.

Jermaine isn't the only one with a vision of the Irish team as a kind of rehab facility for English footballers coming to terms with the brutal truth that they'll never be good enough to play for their own country. Jamie O'Hara has made no secret of the fact that he'd prefer to play for England but will plump for Ireland if there's nothing better to do. We're also courting Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan who've adopted the same attitude. I know the Queen is coming but is it really necessary for the FAI to put us all in the proper mood by scavenging scraps from the master's table?

You could peddle the old line, which I often used myself while living in London in the heyday of Jack's Army, that the history of Irish emigration means that there are many English-born children of Irish parents who feel an affinity with the land of their ancestors. There's some truth in that, though it's notable that Martin Keown, who had two Irish parents, played GAA as a kid and visited Ireland every year, opted for England even though, as he's said himself, he was more Irish than many Irish internationals.

Or you could defend our scouring the English game for anyone with the most tenuous of Irish connections on the pragmatic grounds that we don't have enough home-grown talent to be fussy. But the problem with that attitude is that it seems to make nonsense of the whole idea of having a national team. Because a national team is not a club team. We are bound to it in a different way. Otherwise most Irish people would follow the likes of Brazil or Germany at international level in the same way that they follow Manchester United and other Premier League giants at club level.

A national team full of players who are using the green jersey as a flag of convenience is a national team without a soul. There's something awful about the thought of, for example, Jermaine Pennant keeping Seamus Coleman out of the team and Wes Hoolahan out of the squad.

Because if Coleman and Hoolahan don't make it with our national team they have nowhere else to go. They're just Irish.

Sunday Indo Sport

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