Ireland & Grealish: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

After the dismal Ireland Vs England friendly over the weekend, which will only be remembered for the chant “Sepp Blatter, he paid for your ground!” it’s fair to say that the Republic’s football future is looking bleak.

There was passing, for the sake of passing. We held onto the ball at the back as we always do, aimlessly shuffling it back and forth. If the opposition press our centre backs, then the ball is shunted forward as quickly as possible.

Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy are useful players, the latter clearly being the more talented, with an ability to not only break up play, but to on occasion set our offensive play in motion. It doesn’t happen often enough and as with most of Ireland’s matches, the midfield was bypassed for long balls up front, our depressing default attacking tactic.

Ireland needs Jack Grealish. It’s as simple as that. When Martin O’Neill named his squad last month for the England and Scotland games, he tried his best to force the young footballer’s hand, even though Grealish said he wouldn’t be making a decision till at least September.

The plan backfired on O’Neill, making it look like the Villa wonder-kid wasn’t interested in representing the tricolour. Is that the case though? If the Irish manager had respected Grealish’s wishes, not make a decision till September, we wouldn’t be at the point where it appears he’s leaning towards England. O’Neill’s job is to quietly try and convince Jack that Ireland is a better option for him, not to make it a public spat.

Former Irish international Kenny Cunningham was adamant on Newstalk’s Off The Ball show that Grealish should never be called up for Ireland duty again.

Cunningham said (via Independent.ie):  “For me, that’s it, the line has already been drawn. I wouldn’t call him up again. This lad is 19 years of age. You make a decision to play for your country with your heart, you don’t make it with your head. He’s got to want to do it, he’s got to want it badly. Clearly he doesn’t want it badly.

“It’s not a decision based on logic. It’s a decision you make with your heart and you make it instantaneously.

“For me, it’s a point of principle. I don’t care how good the player is and he has some magnificent attributes. This is an invitation to play for the senior international team, you should only get one opportunity. We’re embarrassing ourselves if we continue down this particular road.

He also added: “I’m sure this will grate a bit, seeing the attitude of Jack. I would think there would be players who’d share my opinion. You have to consider the dynamic within the dressing room.

“My gut reaction… every bone in my body is telling me, no, this is all wrong, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to be fair to the other players.”

Cunningham may be correct that this hemming and hawing attitude might grate with the current squad, but if Grealish did decide to play for us and showed the kind of ability and form he has at Villa, I think attitudes would soften.

Granted he’s untested, with minimal experience, however, we have very few players like him at the moment. The closest player to him is Wes Hoolahan, who was largely ignored for the past decade. Hoolahan battled for years to get into the starting 11 and now at 33 years of age, is not a viable candidate for the future, despite being a very useful player.

If Grealish started providing pinpoint passes over defenders and clever through balls for Robbie Keane to score, just as he has been doing for Villa, would the squad care if he took an extra few months to make his international decision?

Ultimately fans, the FAI, and players only care about winning. Countless teams have put up with a temperamental/egotistical player because he helps his team win games. There’s been no evidence to suggest Grealish has a selfish or arrogant streak, he’s just hungry to play.

When Tim Sherwood told Jack he was picking him for his first Villa start, Grealish replied: “It’s about time.” It may have been a little cocky, however at least it shows the desire and confidence of a player who is ready to take his opportunity and put on a dominant creative display, match after match, providing chances, controlling the tempo and remaining calm when pressed by the opposition.

These are exactly the type of technical characteristics the Irish national team is crying out for. We shouldn’t dismiss Grealish because he hasn’t said ‘Yes’ to Ireland.

In reality, why would he play for Ireland? He was born in England, his father/advisor is English. He has played underage football for us since he was 13 years old, but there’s no certainty he’ll continue to.

We’ve stolen enough talent from Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland over the years. If September rolls along and he sides with England, which is the most likely outcome, best of luck to him.

Nonetheless until the day he announces ‘i’ve chosen to play for England’, we shouldn’t let bruised pride get in the way of recruiting one of the most promising attacking youngsters available to us.