Tuesday 16 January 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Anger at Jack Grealish misses the point

Post-mortem should focus on why Ireland are so reliant on players born abroad

Jack Grealish is presented with the Irish U17 International player of the year award by Kevin Doyle in 2013
Jack Grealish is presented with the Irish U17 International player of the year award by Kevin Doyle in 2013
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Anger, sadness and relief. The range of Irish emotions aired in response to Jack Grealish's English declaration just about summed up a fatiguing saga that slowly trickled towards this conclusion.

His long goodbye has allowed a large body of supporters to come to terms with the loss of an exciting talent, and the management and players who sensed it was going this way will be glad that the issue is finally put to bed.

Unsurprisingly, the disappointment at his choice has veered into irrational anger - the kind of anger that keeps people talking about sport 24/7, so there's no point in getting worked up about it. Grealish will have expected internet abuse to come with his decision.

Time will tell if he's made the right choice and if he's taken that route for the correct reasons.

He may have led Ireland down the garden path but the FAI, who have a recruitment policy which revolves around rooting in the undergrowth, cannot take it too personally.


Could the FAI and Martin O'Neill have done more? That's the question that will follow them around if Grealish delivers on his potential and turns out to be a star. There are points along the way where their actions could be questioned.

Roy Keane's criticism of the player's father Kevin was possibly ill-advised, even if this appears to be another example of the Corkman being a good judge of character. Another positive aspect of this pursuit drawing to a close is that we will be hearing less from Grealish Snr.

O'Neill was taken by surprise by the speed of the winger's progression with a stunning FA Cup semi final performance at the end of a week where the Irish boss had expressed doubts about his immediate Villa prospects drawing ridicule.

But that was eight months after Grealish had rejected an opportunity to train with the Irish senior squad. He was in control of his destiny from that point.

A valid criticism is that O'Neill had nothing to lose by bringing Grealish on the tour of the United States in the summer of 2014; it's believed the player's camp would have welcomed it.

The Derry man used that trip for a first look at the options he had inherited, and an invite to Grealish, who was coming off the back of a season in League One with Notts County, was down the list of priorities. O'Neill had spoken upon his appointment about the danger of throwing caps around like confetti and with a two-year plan to make the European Championships, his focus was short term.

It's noticeable that O'Neill is now involved the pursuit of another gifted youngster from the midlands, Arsenal's Danny Crowley, who is just starting his loan year in League One with Barnsley. That urgency indicates they might just move things along faster in future, regardless of whether the target is ready.

At youth level, England are working harder to keep hold of dual-nationality players, a product of concerns about the shortage of home-grown performers in the Premier League.

One good month is enough to be on Roy Hodgson's radar; the fact that it's not as hard to get capped by England these days is complicating attempts to lure eligible options. Fairytale stories such as Jamie Vardy and Rickie Lambert have demonstrated that it's never too late.

The genuine cause for sadness here is the reason that Grealish generated so much attention, the absence of Irish-born youngsters making anything close to a comparable impact.

Pragmatism means that exploring our diaspora will always be a part of the FAI's modus operandi and the rules that exist at the moment allow shopping around.

However, a glance at the 40-man provisional squad for next week's Euro qualifiers with Germany and Poland is a real source of concern. Only five men on the long list were born in the 1990s and just two, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, came through the ranks in this jurisdiction.

James McCarthy, like Aiden McGeady before him, was pursued at an early age and stayed on board. Eunan O'Kane joined Marc Wilson, Darron Gibson, James McClean and Shane Duffy part of a throng that were capped by Northern Ireland at various levels before jumping ship.

If you win some through this route, then you have to be prepared to lose some. Noel King's current U-21 squad is peppered with individuals that speak with an English twang. Two have top flight experience gained this year. Josh Cullen (West Ham) and Reece Grego-Cox (QPR) are from Essex and London respectively.

With a bit of luck, the scouts will occasionally find a kid with an Irish background that commits early and turns into a gem. Hopefully, that duo fit the bill.

Still, the reliance on the grandparent rule is symptomatic of a failure to nurture elite options of our own and, with that well running dry, there could be trouble ahead. Steve Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni and O'Neill came into the gig promising to look under every stone and they came back with next to nothing.

Their job would be easier if the Irish production line was doing its job. The Grealish post mortem should start and end there.

Irish Independent

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