Don’t judge me on my accent, I’m Irish and proud, says Cullen

Josh Cullen is a London-born midfielder and West Ham United employee and he has just been called up to the senior Ireland senior set-up for the first time as a late addition to Mick McCarthy’s squad.

Don’t judge me on my accent, I’m Irish and proud, says Cullen

Josh Cullen is a London-born midfielder and West Ham United employee and he has just been called up to the senior Ireland senior set-up for the first time as a late addition to Mick McCarthy’s squad. Well, there’s only one place to start, isn’t there? Cullen actually knows Declan Rice well. The pair shared digs briefly when they were teenagers with the Hammers and still keep in touch, not least this past week when they swapped text messages of congratulations for their respective national elevations.

Cullen, on loan this season at Charlton Athletic, spoke prior to Rice’s switch of allegiance to England about the choice facing his sometime teammate and he echoed yesterday what he said in January when pointing out that every case is different. There is also an understandable element of sympathy.

“Yeah a little bit,” Cullen explained ahead of training at Abbottstown.

“Everyone is different. Obviously Dec had that in his mind, that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He’s made the decision now and now we wish him all the best.

“Hopefully he goes on and has a successful career. But, yeah, for me, I’m totally focused on playing for Ireland and hopefully all the talk will be squashed when I make an appearance and hopefully that’s in this (international) break and it’ll be done and dusted.”

That last point is worth stressing here. Questions over his own international intentions are nothing new given he had people asking why he was playing for Ireland four years ago when Jack Grealish swapped green for white and Cullen was still embedded with the U21s.

“I see myself as an Irishman,” he explained with an admirable calm when asked about being an ‘Englishman playing for Ireland’.

“Apart from the accent and being born in London, I’ve got family who are Irish and I’m proud to be Irish.”

The Irish branch of the family tree stretches back to Leitrim and Blacklion, just across the county border in Cavan, and his dad’s parents, Bridget and Owen Cullen. His own father will be in Gibraltar on Saturday and his mother and girlfriend will join them in Dublin for the Georgia game. Cullen did represent England once at U16 level and, while he has lined out for Ireland 17 times since then between U19 and U21, he understands how the dual nationality issue has come to leave some folk wary of any Anglo-Irish player’s intentions going forward.

“Yeah of course. When a case happens with something like Declan you can totally understand that people will think that way. But, like I said, I’m just focused on playing for Ireland and, if the appearance comes this time, or if I have to wait, my full focus is on playing for Ireland.”

And Charlton. And West Ham. Such are life’s complications for the majority of young English or Irish pros looking to make the grade at Premier League level. Few, like Rice, make the step straight up to the first-team squads without recourse to time on loan elsewhere. The Valley is Cullen’s third temporary home.

Charlton would love to make it his permanent residence. A playmaker and a harrier, he can feature at the foot or on the right side of a diamond. He hit the ground running in League One this season before a dislocated shoulder robbed him of momentum and a handful of months on the pitch.

His form since returning in January has clearly been good given McCarthy, who watched him play against Portsmouth and Burton Albion recently, reached for his number. Cullen describes himself as a player who likes to dominate games and Ireland could clearly do with men of that ilk. Playing under Lee Bowyer has helped him add to a game which could do with generating more goals – he has only scored one in almost a 100 first-team appearances – and the fans have embraced him as the club chases a spot in the Championship. Cullen’s intentions don’t square with that though.

A Hammers fan from the cradle, he made his senior debut for the club as a 19-year old against FC Lusitanos of Andorra in a Europa League game in 2015 but only two more appearances have been fitted in around spells at Bradford, Bolton Wanderers, and Charlton. David Moyes gushed about him 14 months ago when he was West Ham’s best player in an FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury Town — this despite having two of his front teeth knocked out — but his fate now rests in the hands of the club’s current boss, Manuel Pellegrini.

“They are still happy with me (at West Ham) and the manager was fully supportive of me last summer when it was time to decide if I would stick around and wait for a chance at West Ham or go out on loan and carry on playing.

“So they were brilliant with me on that and I’ve still got another year on my contract. So I’ll go back in the summer, sit down and see how things go and evaluate things then.”

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