Tuesday 26 March 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Jilted Paddy will keep a welcome on the mat for the one that got away'


Declan Rice
Declan Rice
"To repeat: Declan, we hardly know ya. We were only getting to know you." Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

As the old ballad goes, Johnny, we hardly knew ya. And as the new lament goes, Declan, we hardly knew you either. The original song, written apparently in the 1860s, features the aforementioned Johnny, who leaves his Irish lass barefoot and pregnant to go off and fight for England in the Ceylon wars.

And now Declan Rice has dumped us to go off and fight for England in the football wars after a relationship in which he became increasingly distant despite his early infatuation with our charms. Same old story. The tall, dark and handsome stranger whispers sweet nothings in our ears until he gets what he wants and then he buggers off and we're left holding the baby.

We thought he was the one. We thought he was going to be the love of our lives for the next 10 years. Then he gets his head turned by the glamorous bird next door and suddenly he deserts us with a text message on Twitter. And on the eve of Valentine's Day too. Where have all the good men gone?

Roses are red/Shamrock is green/I'll play for the Rose/And treat Paddy mean.

And all this after the FAI only last month sent him a tweet on the occasion of his 20th birthday. Like the rest of us, last Wednesday was a bad day for John 'Jilted John' Delaney.

To repeat: Declan, we hardly know ya. We were only getting to know you. No one passed much remarks on your underage games with Ireland. We only really copped on to how good you were this season, and it wasn't while you were in the Irish jersey but West Ham's. Obviously if you were with Yeovil Town, say, we might not have fancied you with quite such enthusiasm.

Either way, we still didn't know much about you. In fact we really know nothing about you at all, bar the surface stuff. We still don't know your interior world, particularly where your heart is vis-à-vis your dual identities. We never had the sit-down about this crucial matter of who you are. So we're all just guessing; we are making assumptions without knowing very much about your upbringing.

You were born in London; your father Seán was born there too; his parents had emigrated from Cork. So you are third-generation Irish. Your mother is English so you are half-English too. Or maybe three-quarters English or seven-eighths English, depending on how you feel. Depending on how often you visited the old sod on your summer holidays; how often your Irish relatives came to visit; how often Irish music was played in your home; how often the GAA games were watched on Sundays; how often your family mixed in Irish social circles; how often they talked about the country of your grandparents. We don't know if you were steeped in your Irish heritage or just occasionally exposed to it. We just don't know.

And rightly or wrongly we get the impression that you don't know yourself whether you are one or the other. We hope you know you can be both. We hope you are comfortable with being both, if that's what you want to be. They are not mutually exclusive. You can be a Limey and a Mick, and anything else you want to throw into the mix too.

In fact your statement last week suggested you have reached some sort of internal accommodation on the matter. "I consider myself to be of mixed nationality," you said. "I am a proud Englishman, having been born and raised in London. However, I am just as proud of my family's Irish heritage and my affinity and connection with the country. I have equal respect and love for both England and Ireland . . ."

Your statement, by the way, was excellent. You did your best to explain the dilemma you were in. Unfortunately you weren't able to explain precisely why you finally chose England over Ireland. Maybe it was just as well for everyone concerned. It would not have been especially diplomatic to come out and say that you chose England because they are a big-time team: they are vastly greater in terms of prestige, profile and financial rewards. You could win a major tournament with them.

And Ireland? Ireland are crap at the moment and they are not going to get any better any time soon. Obviously you couldn't say that, but we can. And if you felt divided 50-50 in this emotional tug-of-war, then you were 100 per cent right to take a chance on the team that might take your career to an altogether different plane. Again, we are guessing here, but we have a sense that this was the deciding factor. "Ultimately," you said, "it is a personal decision that I have made with my heart and my head, based on what I believe is best for my future."

In purely tribal terms, international football is supposed to be the arena where professional players park all issues of career and money to go with the place of their heart. In reality we know that this ideal doesn't always apply - and not just in soccer, either, but across many sports. But in your case, where the heart is divided, then the head must also come into the reckoning. Clearly, in terms of your career, you have given yourself the best chance of making it onto the world stage. You could have been the big fish in the small pond; you have gambled on swimming in the big pond.

If you make it there, you might be surprised at the amount of goodwill flowing towards you from this island, once the initial disappointment has faded. In time we will find someone else. And if you happen to prosper, we will take some comfort in the fact that you are still one of us, because we're needy like that.

In the meantime, good luck and give us a call some time. There will always be a welcome on the mat.

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