Tom Mohan defends Ireland’s ‘granny rule’ policy

Ireland U17 manager Tom Mohan, who has led the squad to next month’s European finals in Bulgaria, has defended the FAI’s pursuit of English-born players eligible for the Republic.

Jack Grealish’s sparkling display for Aston Villa last weekend caused the debate over dual-nationality players to resurface again, especially among English fans irate at potentially losing one of their best young players permanently to Ireland.

The role of the FAI’s London-based scout, Mark O’Toole, has been brought into particular focus, as he was the instigator of Grealish being introduced to the Irish set-up at the age of 14.

English journalist Martin Samuel aired some cutting remarks about O’Toole yesterday, calling for the abolition of the “granny rule”.

“His [O’Toole’s] job it is to sweep up the best young players qualified to play for Ireland,” Samuel wrote. “That’s not the same as sweeping up the best young Irish players.”

Mohan, who relies heavily on O’Toole’s work at the coalface, insisted the FAI are acting both legally and morally.

“The rules are there, we abide by them and we are always looking for quality,” said the Fermanagh native, whose squad includes Connor Ronan and Anthony Scully, both formerly capped by England.

“We are a small nation, so you have to look at the players available, bring them in, give them an opportunity and take it from there. If there are players over there who are eligible for us, you have to make the most of it. They are players who are keen to play for Ireland and are enthusiastic.

“Mark O’Toole is very useful to us. He has his finger on the pulse all over the south of England. Mark does massive work and continues to do so, like our other scouts over there.

“We have Gerry Murphy, Mick Martin and Don Givens; we are active in England. There are a lot of very good people.”

Holders England will provide the opposition for Ireland in their final group game on May 13, after Mohan’s charges face Netherlands on May 7 and Italy three days later.

The top two of the four nations from the pool progress to the semi-finals, with the added fillip of the six highest finishers qualifying for October’s FIFA World Cup in Chile.

“I feel we are producing good players,” stressed Mohan. “I’ve been working with the U17 squad for the last eight seasons and there have been very good players, such as Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Greg Cunningham, to come through.

“It’s so difficult for youngsters to break into English first-team football compared to 15 years, ago with the influx of players coming into the Premier League at a younger age.

“But these are a good group, with a lot of good technical and attacking abilities. The confidence they will get from actually qualifying will be massive.

“Then, when we get to the finals and they see the professionalism; I suppose, everything that goes with it increases their profile.

“You are going to have the cream of Europe there at U17 level and players will always learn from that experience.”

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