Saturday 24 March 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Don't put pressure on Grealish to rush his decision

Nothing treacherous about Villa teen taking the time to ponder emotive national question

Jack Grealish celebrates scoring for Ireland U-21s. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Jack Grealish celebrates scoring for Ireland U-21s. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Here we go again. Just as Jack Grealish's sparkling cameo on the opening weekend of the Premier League campaign delivered hope that Ireland finally had an emerging elite talent, word comes through that the 18-year-old is considering his international future.

He had hinted at uncertainty earlier this year when he was effectively speaking in hypothetical terms. Now that he's showing signs of becoming the real thing, pressure from the English FA has left the Birmingham-born playmaker in a dilemma.

There was a time when our friends across the water were so laden with talent that they let players slip through the net easily. Not any more. With homegrown top-flight numbers dwindling, any individual with potential is a target.

In this sphere, England's difficulties are hindering Irish opportunities.

Irish fans might feel that history is repeating considering the anxiety that preceded James McCarthy's senior breakthrough. This is what happens when your own system is inadequate.

Much of the worry leading up to the Glaswegian's cementing of his Irish ambitions was a product of needless paranoia that was borderline insulting towards the Everton star.

Still, it is true that Scotland made a late play for his services and called in some influential characters with a view to turning his head.

No youngster should be condemned for considering every other option available.


In an era where aspiring footballers are guilty of rash and unthinking behaviour, the maturity to step back before diving headlong into a lifelong commitment is understandable.

Of course, it would be wonderful if all Irish diaspora had the absolute conviction of a young Kevin Kilbane, who angered Sam Allardyce at Preston by flatly refusing an English underage call.

Grealish, to be fair, has rejected FA advances before now. FIFA's rules can leave teenagers in a bind if they represent one country in a competitive underage fixture and then change to another before concluding they want to go back to their original.

This is the reason that Manchester United youngster Michael Keane, capped for Ireland at U-17 level, is now bound to England after switching to wear their colours from U-19 level upwards. The 21-year-old cannot return to Irish colours in the future.

However, his twin brother Will, who rejected Ireland as a teen, can now give the FAI a call if it fails to work out with England. Both Keanes are 21 and haven't quite progressed to the extent of being on Roy Hodgson's radar. But it's the indecisive youth who left a foot in both camps that is snookered in the long term.

Martin O'Neill met Grealish last week and chose his words carefully when he discussed the issue publicly.

This is a delicate matter and, to use language from another form of courtship, there is little to be gained from coming on too strong. In a social media world, Grealish is only a click away from punters more than willing to offer feedback on his situation. Emotive responses serve no purpose.

There are people who believe there should be no grey area and look unkindly upon any form of procrastination.

Such an irrational approach is unwelcome in an era where pressure is placed on the shoulders of the cubs.

O'Neill delivered a telling response last week when asked if English clubs prefer a player with dual eligibility to lean towards their FA. "I'd say you have a point there," he replied.

International football is a privilege but in the baby steps of their football journey, these players have to be conscious of what their paymasters say.

We know that the Irish jersey has been worn with distinction by players who, given the choice, would have gone a different route to Kilbane. They just never got that chance.

In recent years, the well of useful adult granny rule recruits has run dry. The best work has come from identifying promising kids, putting the groundwork in and making them feel welcome. With McCarthy, that approach worked.

Grealish has made friends in the Irish camp and was selected in Noel King's U-21 squad on Friday. "He's happy to play for us," said King.

Add in Roy Keane's presence at Aston Villa and there are plenty of reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

Calm heads are essential. What Grealish needs is space, not grief.

Noble mission to honour an Irishman who broke new ground

Next Saturday morning in Belfast, a group of football fans will launch a campaign to recognise the achievements of an Irish trailblazer.

Patrick O'Connell was the first Irishman to captain Manchester United (1915), he was a La Liga winning manager with Real Betis (1935) and a boss of Barcelona who helped to ensure their survival during the Spanish Civil War.

The Dubliner later joined Sevilla and brought them to a second-place finish in the Spanish top flight.

O'Connell was a colourful character who fell on hard times when his football career ended, with mystery surrounding his final years. He died in 1959 in London at the age of 71 with little to his name, and he was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund has been set up by a group of interested parties who want to properly highlight his remarkable journey.

They want to raise the funds to build a memorial in his honour at the cemetery in Kilburn and also construct a monument at his former club Belfast Celtic.

Together, they have organised the donation of a variety of different football shirts to contribute towards the cause, with the signatures of global figures such as Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer helping out, and Paolo Maldini and Gareth Bale pledging to follow suit.

Sheffield Wednesday, another of O'Connell's former clubs, have bought into the idea, while former Northern Ireland striker Gerry Armstrong has agreed to act as an Ambassador.

Real Betis have also donated a signed shirt.

The organising committee will put their selection of shirts on show at the Belfast Celtic Museum at Belfast's Park Centre on Saturday morning at 10.00.

Details on the worthy campaign can be found at

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