Tuesday 17 September 2019

A simple twist of family fate leads enthusiastic Robinson back to the old country

Callum Robinson. Photo: Sportsfile
Callum Robinson. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Callum Robinson didn't choose his family. They chose him.

He never knew his grandmother, Anne Deighan. She moved to the English midlands from Monaghan nearly 50 years ago, settled into a marriage and the beginning of a family.

And so she started a new life. But she never got the opportunity to complete it.

Anne was killed in a car accident when her daughter, Clare, was just nine years old. Her husband re-married and the family, as families often do, re-shaped and re-moulded itself.

Callum grew up as an English boy but Clare's bond with the old country would remain sturdy.

Her father would later marry another Irishwoman; the links stronger still.

Robinson always had talent; he went to Aston Villa as an eight-year-old and graduated through the age ranks, sometimes playing beyond them. The FAI were alerted.

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Ironically, the complicated family history that tied him to Ireland prevented him from sealing his connection there and then.

"When I was 15, I was going to play against Hungary but the paperwork took a while to sort and it kind of just faded out. It was annoying as I was ready to go."

And so what else was there to do for a player embedded in the English football system but to then represent their under-age sides; after all, it wasn't a contract signed in blood, merely convenience.

Ireland would have to be patient. So would he.

He played for the English, from U-16s to U-20s, then debuted for Villa in the Premier League but neither they nor he would survive at that level.

Ultimately he ended up in Preston North End; the irony, a city with its own unique Celtic heart and a club housing a menagerie of Irish faces.

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A friend of his, Ciaran Fadden - 'Fads', as he is known to the Irish community in Preston - and a team-mate, Alan Browne, probed and prodded him to renew the connection that had always remained deep within.

"For about two years I really wanted to do it," he concedes. "But it was one of them where I was playing a lot of football in the Championship, I was only 19 or 20, playing 50 games a season. I was still growing and didn't want to play too much football and kill myself.

"But I rang Fads and just said I wanted to do it. I spoke to Browney about two years ago, then I made the phone call and he said he would put it out there with one of his friends who works for one of the newspapers.

"So we got it out there that I wanted to declare for Ireland and it's probably one of the best things I've ever done.

"My Mum really wanted me to do it. Once we did it, I got the Celtic game but the paperwork took a while because Mum didn't really have a lot on my grandmother so it took a while. But we got it sorted after a couple of months, I got in last September and kicked on from there.

"My Mum always wanted me to do it. She came over for the Celtic one as that was the first time, my debut against Wales away and then the Denmark one when I came on. She had work for the Wales match. I can't keep her from work!"

The new football experience initiated a new life experience. The old country brought him a new family.

"I still have some family members who live in Monaghan too," he says.

"It was nice for my Mum as well as she got back in touch with all her family.

"Even my brother, well he's my half-brother, we've got the same dad, but his mum is from Ireland as well so he's always supported Ireland.

"He's got Ireland tops that I've never seen before, the old jerseys and stuff. He's older than me by the way, he's 31.

"I gave him my Wales one. It won't fit him, though, it's too big! Pierre Coleman is his name, give him a little shout-out. He'll be buzzing."

As you can probably glean, Robinson off the pitch is as compelling and diverting as he is on it, as his brief cameos have already evidenced.

Six goals in eight games for his club reflect a man in form who, rather than being carted off unceremoniously after an hour against Wales, might instead be allowed to make a more lasting impression for his country.

Like the country has made on him.

"Families are important as well. For me, I knew it meant a lot for my Mum and now she's in touch with her family.

"It's not just me playing, it's also for my family."

Which makes you think Robinson didn't have to choose his country either.

The decision was made for him years ago, somewhere in deepest Monaghan.

Irish Independent

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