Sport Soccer

Saturday 17 March 2018

FAI must strike early to make the most of 'Granny rule'

Aston Villa star Jack Grealish
Aston Villa star Jack Grealish
Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland's David Forde
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

EVERY time a new Ireland manager rolls into town, he is presented with the predictable avalanche of questions about the riches he can find in the treasure chest otherwise known as the 'Granny Rule'.

Names of players with known Irish ancestry are tossed in their general direction and they speak optimistically about the possibilities.

Giovanni Trapattoni landed with firm plans to scour the system and unearth players who hadn't been capped by Ireland before at any level.

His return? Ciaran Clark, Keiren Westwood, Simon Cox, Paul Green and Alex Pearce. Hardly the most exciting ensemble.

Clark, who was persuaded to convert by Richard Dunne, is the only Premier League regular of that quintet.

Martin O'Neill arrived with similar enthusiasm, tempered by an admission that he first needed to arm himself with the full list of names of those eligible for conversion to the Irish camp.

He was given an early taste of what to expect when he responded positively to Connor Wickham's availability. Headlines followed and so did a response from Wickham's camp to indicate that the Sunderland striker, currently on loan to Sheffield Wednesday, simply had no interest. In this market, eligibility does not mean availability.

Last week, O'Neill's trip to watch West Ham was tied in with reports that Mark Noble, who has resisted advances from Ireland before, might suddenly be for turning.

That would be a fairly dramatic shift from October, when Noble made it clear that his immediate international priority was making England's World Cup squad. "I have seen the players we have had here who have been in the England set-up and I believe that if I made that step- up, I would be able to mentally and physically cope with it," he said. "I believe I am good enough."

His club manager Sam Allardyce added his two cents' worth. "His performances will have to be consistently of the highest quality to attract the attention of Roy Hodgson," he said.

There was no ambiguity about his bottom-line ambition. Four years ago, Jamie O'Hara was another Englishman attracting admiring glances from the wrong nation during World Cup year.

"Obviously, there has been some interest and it is a great honour to be asked to play for Ireland," he said. "It's just something I'll have to look at after the World Cup."


There was an element of brinkmanship about his words, reminding England they were in danger of losing him in case they didn't move quickly.

A cynic would say that the speculation around Noble will help the West Ham man to do the same. He'll be hoping that Hodgson is more worried about losing him than Capello was about being deprived of O'Hara.

Neither player should be denigrated for their honesty. They are following their heart and, if Noble has any interest in switching allegiance, a pragmatic pal would encourage him to wait just in case England suffer an injury epidemic in the preliminaries or he finds a run of form that makes him a populist cause.

After all, with the number of top-flight players available to Hodgson dwindling year on year, it is never too late. Exhibit 'A' is Rickie Lambert. While players hum and haw, the FAI is left waiting like a bored taxi man on a quiet Monday night.

Consecutive Ireland managers have realised they can't afford to close the door to anybody, even if their heart initially lies elsewhere.

The history of Irish football proves that point.

Matt Holland gave an interview before his debut in Macedonia expressing the wish that Mick McCarthy's side followed up on an English success earlier in the day. He went on to become a committed member of the squad and never made the same mistake again.

Andy Townsend is another who grew into a cause that formed no part of his childhood dreams and there are many more examples.

International football is a different ball game now, though. Once an English-born player breaks into the Premier League and gets a run of matches, chances are he's not too far away from senior recognition.

The important pitch battle now is at youth level, where the groundwork really makes a difference. Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy ultimately stayed loyal to Ireland because of the efforts that were made in their formative days.


Hopefully, we will say the same of young Aston Villa star Jack Grealish if he delivers on his potential – a superb solo run at loan club Notts County on Saturday hinted at his promise.

FIFA's decision to amend eligibility laws has moved the goalposts, meaning that players can represent more than one nation at youth level.

The English FA, who are under pressure to produce more homegrown talent, are working harder to keep hold of players that would otherwise have slipped away.

Young Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford is a case in point, a promising performer who the FAI thought they had on board, but he's gone back to England and was capped by their U-21s last month.

The staff in Abbotstown have always been good at identifying possible recruits and U-21 boss Noel King has worked tirelessly on the mission.

He has stressed that the power of O'Neill and Roy Keane's personalities could sway fence-sitters, but there comes a point where they have to prioritise their targets.

If the likes of Noble haven't come on board by now, a pursuit is likely to be a waste of time. The key to striking gold is finding kids before they are famous.


Gunners join the queue for class act Coleman

SEAMUS COLEMAN doesn't like fuss, but he is improving to the extent that he may have to deal with transfer speculation on a more regular basis.

The Donegal man has been floated as a potential replacement for Bacary Sagna if the French defender fails to agree a new contract with Arsenal. With so many teams now operating without traditional wingers, the width provided by an attacking full-back is a precious commodity and Coleman (left) fits the modern profile, even if he's still not quite the finished article. He's on the way, though, and his level-headed personality should ensure that the graph continues on an upward curve.

Everton have their own ambitions of reaching the top four, but the 25-year-old is sure to be presented with offers to join the established order at some stage in the future.


Big-club interest could prove double-edged sword for Forde

DAVID FORDE is facing a new-year dilemma. The Galwegian, who turns 34 next week, is in the form of his life at Millwall and his contract expires at the end of season.

His Irish performances have helped to put him in the shop window and he's now attracting attention from a higher calibre of suitor with Crystal Palace and Celtic keen and a number of other Premier League clubs considering bringing him on board as No 2.

That presents the Galwegian (left) with a headache as regards the Irish No 1 slot.

Martin O'Neill watched him perform well on Saturday and match sharpness could give him the edge on Keiren Westwood.

Yet Forde, who has spent the majority of his career earning modest money in football terms, is entitled to cash in on his rise in profile considering that time isn't exactly on his side.

Few could begrudge him a big contract, but there is a danger it could come at the expense of a regular international place. It's a tough call.

Irish Independent

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