Saturday 17 February 2018

Martin O'Neill insists he would have 'sorted out' wayward Jack Grealish

Martin O'Neill says he would have 'sorted out' Jack Grealish
Martin O'Neill says he would have 'sorted out' Jack Grealish
Martin O’Neill: ‘My choice of player is limited’

John Fallon

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill claims he could have helped "sort out" Jack Grealish if the Aston Villa playmaker hadn't snubbed him for England.

Grealish (21) continues to court controversy for the off-field antics, the latest coming last weekend when he was allegedly involved in an all-night party at a Birmingham hotel.

Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo has urged his player to "grow up" after fining him two weeks' wages - around €50,000 - and handing him a one-match ban for his latest blemish.

A year ago this week, O'Neill's 13-month pursuit of Grealish's international allegiance was ended by a phone call from the player's father, Kevin, informing him of their decision to defect to England.

The switch was subsequently ratified by FIFA and Grealish represented his homeland's under 21s at the Toulon tournament in May.

Had Grealish stuck with Ireland, the country he'd represented since 14 through his grandparents, O'Neill may have had him at that time preparing for the European Championships.

"I would have been delighted if young Grealish chose us and I think I would have sorted him out because I've been able to do that with a few players during my career," the Ireland manager claims.

"Having him in France at the Euros would have been like a club. I don't think he would have been involved in the shenanigans he has been if I was his club manager. He wouldn't have had the same problems.

"Whether Grealish was coerced into doing something, whether his father wanted him to do something, I don't know. I am not really that bothered any more.

"Once he had decided to go for England, that was fine, he has made his decision. He has to live with that and I move on. I don't see him playing for England in the immediate future but he has the talent."

Acknowledging that the tug-of-war over Grealish descended into a circus, O'Neill will afford space to the latest player uncertain of his international future, Scott Hogan, without allowing it protract into another saga. He said: "If the player says, 'I am undecided' and the reason that they give is reasonable, then I would give them the time. But there is a finite amount of time that you would wait for somebody."

For all the benefit Hogan's declaration would bring, especially given 29-year-old Shane Long is the youngest forward in his squad, his status as a Championship striker epitomises the lack of Premier League options O'Neill has. He admits the paucity of top forwards worries him as Ireland battle with Serbia, Wales and Austria in the group for the sole automatic berth on offer into the 2018 World Cup.

"That has to be a concern because your choice of player is limited compared to what we're facing with the likes of Serbia who have players playing top-level football. It does make a difference.

"The higher level our players are at, the better. Then they can step into the international stage and not feel that they have to make ferocious adjustments in their game or their psychology.

"It is a concern for the Irish players themselves but they have to deal with it and work accordingly."

After drawing 2-2 away to Serbia in their campaign opener three weeks ago, Ireland are next in action on Thursday week when Georgia visit Lansdowne Road. Ireland then trek to bottom seeds Moldova on October 9 before another trip, to Vienna in Austria, on November 12.

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