Thursday 5 December 2019

Jack Grealish willing to take his time on big decisions

In-demand Aston Villa teen has dilemmas ahead for club and country

'Jack's one of them who could play over 100 times for Ireland...You don't really coach him; he's just got the gift' Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
'Jack's one of them who could play over 100 times for Ireland...You don't really coach him; he's just got the gift' Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

John Fallon

JACK GREALISH celebrated his 19th birthday last night surrounded by his family, the same group of confidants he'll lean on in making critical decisions about his club and country future over the next 12 months.

He may be in the same boat as Mark Noble in leaving Ireland manager Martin O'Neill waiting but that's where the similarities with the West Ham man cease.

Unlike Noble, Grealish didn't dispatch his agent to meet with O'Neill three weeks ago to outline his rationale for the stance he's taken, nor will he be represented by any outsider next week when negotiations with Villa manager Paul Lambert over a new contract crank up.

Family counts most to Grealish and, given his depth of his Irish lineage, that can only be a good thing for Ireland as the furore around one of the Premier League's hottest young talents abounds.

They were instrumental in advising him to shun England twice already to remain in the Ireland fold. Admittedly, the dilemma he finds himself in now carries much higher stakes than U-17 and U-19 level as a senior competitive cap ties him to that nation but the principle doesn't change.

He deliberated over those choices and, though he discovered on the Villa Park pitch last week that such an approach has the potential to rile Irishmen, Grealish intends to face this conundrum in the same fashion.

"Between appearing for Villa in the Premier League and the international situation, things have just happened very quickly for me in the past month," explained the teen.

"My contract at Villa runs out at the end of the season, so my concentration is on playing for the club and getting the negotiations on a new deal sorted out.

"Martin O'Neill appreciates from my meeting with him that I need to put my club future first before thinking about the international situation.

"My father and I wouldn't have liked to go to that meeting and hear Martin say, 'Come on and play for Ireland'. In fairness, he didn't put me under pressure to make a decision.

"He sat me down, treated me like a man and talked through everything.

"It wasn't just about football but growing up as a footballer and where my grandparents are from in Ireland.

"That's what I wanted to hear from Martin because it is a big decision to make and one I want to take my time over."

It's a position likely to make Grealish unavailable to O'Neill until next summer, at which point Ireland will be midway through their European Championship qualifying campaign. If it's any consolation, defection to England during the interim is a non-runner too.

RESTRAINED

That lull highlights the benefit of O'Neill having Roy Keane in daily interaction at Villa with the gem he covets. His mixed managerial history has taught the Corkman to be restrained in his public opinion of emerging players but even he charted a big future for Grealish last week.

Villa player and goalkeeping coach Shay Given was more effusive, predicting the tyro's eventual entrance into the pantheon of legends holding over a century of caps. "I feared that I wouldn't be the type of player Roy liked," confessed Grealish.

"On the first day of pre-season training in July, I didn't start the session that well and he tapped me on the shoulder after a half an hour.

"He said: 'Are you alright?' and I replied 'yeah'. And then he asked me: 'When do you start training then?'

"I wondered was he being a little bit serious here but it was just banter.

"Since then, we've got on brilliant and I put much of my success at Villa this season down to Roy. He floods me with confidence every day that I'm working with him."

While O'Neill respects the position taken by Grealish, that might not be the case in other quarters. Irish international Stephen Quinn was one of three Hull City players booked for heavy challenges on the winger during a 15-minute blitz last Sunday week and is alleged to have made given the teen a piece of his mind.

"He called me a Fake Paddy," quipped Grealish about Quinn with a giggle. "That's what I have to expect though now. Football banter can be like that and I'm not a kid anymore so there's no problem."

Grealish was merely a child when he travelled with the Villa squad to Anfield two seasons ago but returns to Merseyside on Saturday ready-made to feature. It begins for Villa a succession of games against last season's top four and represents the type of challenge Grealish relishes.

He said: "Having gotten a taste of the Premier League, I'm striving for more. I'm going through one of those phases where I just can't get enough.

"It all taken off since the first game of the season at Stoke City when I didn't even expect to get on the bench. The manager told me afterwards that he was seriously thinking of starting me but I was nervous enough coming on.

"Hopefully I can get some game-time at Anfield because my confidence is sky high.

"It will be nice to go back to there as a first-team player. I was just 16 the last time and didn't make the bench but I'll always remember the atmosphere from the Kop and wishing that I could one day come back there and play."

That ranks as just one ambition within the grasp of Grealish.

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