Grealish had been wearing the green jersey at underage levels since 2011, but recently decided to hedge his bets between England and Ireland, just as Christie has joined up with O’Neill’s senior squad for the first time.
It was inevitable, then, that the newcomer would be asked about his old pal after his first training session in Malahide yesterday.
And it was understandable, too, that the 22-year decided to tread carefully with his answers.
“It’s down to him [if he wants to play for the Republic]. I haven’t really spoken to him about it, but it would be good to get him on board because he is a fantastic player and he’s got a great future ahead.”
Christie hasn’t attracted quite the same level of attention here as the Aston Villa midfielder, but he has been earning some rave reviews since joining Derby.
He is a right-back who has drifted down the field from his teenage days as a striker and a winger. He has retained that attacking spirit and declares himself comfortable playing on the left side of defence.
Ireland aren’t overloaded with options on either flank, but it is on the right side of the back four, where David Meyler had to substitute for the injured Seamus Coleman in Germany, that he seems more likely to feature.
“Yes, (O’Neill) mentioned that before Germany, that there weren’t too many right backs. That’s why we tried to get the paperwork done in time, but it didn’t happen. Seamus is a fantastic player. I’ve seen him play plenty of times on TV. He’s a great lad.”
Christie has been pencilled in for a debut against the USA at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday.
O’Neill has all but told him as much and the manager’s hands-on approach to his recruitment has clearly been instrumental in his declaration.
“That was obviously one of the main reasons. He rang me. He got in touch with me, whereas obviously other people do it differently,” Christie confirmed. “You don’t really hear from the manager. That was one of the main selling points, he was enthusiastic about getting me on board. He’s watched me and, for me, that’s really pleasing to hear that from a manager.”
Apparently, the carrot of an England U21 cap was dangled in front of him but Christie never thought to bite.
That he qualified for Ireland courtesy of his grandmother was known. Her name is Mary Redmond and her own family had their roots in Dublin’s North Wall before moving to Clontarf and on to Kildare.
Redmond lives in England now, but other relatives remain in the Dublin region and Christie visited those same parts as a youngster though he was too young for the memories to lodge permanently.
That said, he never sought to bring his availability to the FAI’s attention. Earning club contracts was the focus, even when the likes of Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh were bending his ear about the Irish situation at Coventry and Derby.
It wasn’t until O’Neill’s long-time lieutenant and current coach with Ireland, Steve Guppy, brought all the relevant strands together and set in motion the process of gaining official clearance to play that he came on board.
“I just speak to the people who advise me, like my agent. I spoke with the manager, Steve McClaren at Derby, and the other people around me and we came to the conclusion that Ireland would be better for me. They’re a good team going places.”