Martin O’Neill says he does not rule out Jack Grealish playing for Ireland but insists it’s now for the player to make his mind up about his international future, after he declined a call-up to the senior squad for the forthcoming games against England and Scotland.
After a dramatic, rumour-fuelled prelude to the manager’s squad announcement — which kicked off an hour late yesterday — O’Neill confirmed he had only just spoken to Grealish and his father Kevin and that the offer had been turned down.
“He wants to complete the season at Aston Villa — there are some important games for them coming up — and he wants to make his decision at some time in the future,” said O’Neill, who admitted he was “disappointed” by the outcome.
O’Neill defended the 11th hour nature of his latest approach as being in keeping with the gut instinct which he feels has served him well as a manager in the past. Explaining why he felt it was not worth trying to meet with Grealish to discuss the issue in advance, he said: “Sometimes along the way you have to have a gut feeling about these things and my own view, from my conversations with him in the past, I’m not so sure that going to visit him would have done the trick. That is just my view. You might tell me it would be worthwhile at the end of it all.
“I’ve been considering this (approach) since he’s come to prominence. I didn’t see it becoming a major issue before. And it’s not just because I’m meeting you here today, but I understand that Jack didn’t really want to make his mind up.
“I just wanted an idea. I really didn’t want to be putting pressure on him, I think that’s the main thing. That he’d come in for the week, get himself involved and maybe it might just have topped off a really brilliant end of season for him. He might have been walking into the camp with an FA Cup medal. A winner’s medal. That is very possible so he would have been on an absolute high.
Over the moon to get my first prem league man of the match, more important what a win from the boys! Fans were great👏 pic.twitter.com/zc47bawSdN— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish1) May 9, 2015
“I didn’t want to pressurise him with these games coming up but I felt that — not that Tim Sherwood would share this — Aston Villa, with that last victory on Saturday, have done enough for them to stay up (and so), there’d be a massive relief around the place and he (Grealish) might be in the position, over the last day or two, to think about it and maybe it might be a type of release for him. But, no is the answer.”
O’Neill also elaborated on how his opinion of Grealish had developed since he was quoted as saying that the Scotland game would be too tough a test for him on the very morning of the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool in which really the 19-year-old’s impressive display shot him into the headlines.
“Five or six weeks ago, when I was asked the question ‘did I think he would be ready for the Scotland game’, the answer was I didn’t think that was the case,” said O’Neill. “I didn’t think that he had played often enough in the side. When he was getting on for Villa he was getting on for the last 20 minutes. You can either do brilliantly as a sub or not get a kick but that wasn’t going to tell me anything.
“But since he has got the games and started to now make an impression, I was prepared to put him into the side, not to worry too much about it. When someone playing at underage level for us is starting to make an impression in the Premier League, I have no problem thinking ‘hold on, is this a change’?
“Fitness too is now something that is less of a concern to him and that run of games he’s getting in pressurised matches is starting to stand to him in really good stead. So, yeah, it was a change there to think that he could do it.”
O’Neill didn’t explicitly rule out making another approach to Grealish but his words strongly implied he feels the ball is now firmly in the player’s court.
“I think at some stage or another, let’s be fair about it, I think Jack’s got to make his mind up,” he said. “He really has got to make his mind up. I think that would be the message coming from not just me personally but probably coming from club level as well. At some stage or another he makes his mind up.
“Now Jack’s been born in England, his father’s been born in England — I can genuinely understand those ties. That’s really understandable. And I’m sure if England were to come calling that’s something that might be hard to resist for him. But I don’t think England have been calling. I don’t know that for certain but I don’t think they have.
“Roy Hodgson is entitled to do whatever he wants. I would not be discussing it with Roy. He sees the same things that I would see. Roy is dealing with experienced players and even the younger lads at this moment that he has are vastly more experienced than Jack at club level.
“I would certainly not rule out him playing for Ireland. I would not rule that out at all. But I think that this is a decision, as a young kid, he will have to make and stay with for the rest of his time as a professional player.”
Meanwhile, former Republic of Ireland international feels Grealish must not commit his future to the Boys in Green “if his heart’s not in it”.
Kilbane said: “The only thing I can really say to him is to go with what he wants, what his heart is telling him. That’s the thing about international football, it must be what you want.”
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