A timeline of the most recent saga in Irish football.
The 200 fans turning up to Wayside Celtic’s Kilternan venue in the Dublin mountains for an U15 international are treated to an afternoon of entertainment as a 14-year-old Jack Grealish marvels in Ireland’s 5-0 over Northern Ireland. The Aston Villa tyro had declared through his grandparents from Kerry, Galway and Dublin.
Despite being an ever-present in Ireland’s Uefa U17 qualifiers the previous year, Grealish reflects on his options after U19 manager Paul Doolin brings the winger to Macedonia but doesn’t give him a minute on the pitch during the three first phase qualifiers. Grealish and his father Kevin accept an invitation from the English FA to visit the St George’s Park facility for talks with U19 manager Noel Blake about switching but they decide against following an intervention from Ireland U21 boss Noel King.
King makes Grealish his youngest-ever player by capping him against Faroe Islands as a late substitute in an U21 qualifier. Not yet 18, Grealishis committed to Ireland for that campaign but still has the option of switching in future U21 tilts or senior level. “I made up my mind a few months ago that Ireland was the best for me and I’m happy with the decision. This was the first time in over a year that I’d pulled on the Irish jersey and it feels good. It’s a proud day for my family and me.”
Following an impressive showing against Macedonia in Dublin and for on-loan club Notts County, Martin O’Neill faces calls to promote Grealish for the summer trip to the United States. “It was very flattering to hear Martin O’Neill speak about me recently and that’s a sign that I am doing something right. I would love to play for the senior Ireland team and with all the games they have lined up for the summer it could happen.” In a move that would have later ramifications, O’Neill opts against fast-trackingGrealish.
Amid renewed interest from the English FA and his breakthrough into the Villa side, Grealish and his father are invited to meet O’Neill and Roy Keane. O’Neill’s offer to allow the player train with the full squad ahead of friendly against Oman is rebuffed. However, Grealish opts to finish out the U21 campaign by facing Germany away in what is his last outing in the Ireland shirt. “Martin hasn’t put me under pressure to make a decision on my international situation. That’s what I wanted to hear from him because it is a big decision. to make and one I want to take my time over,” he said.
Though he only played two games in 2014, Grealish is voted FAI’s U21 Player of the Year. “It’s always a joy to come over and put the green jersey on,” he said. “I spoke to Noel King at the start of the year and I said this year I’m going to take a year out to concentrate on my club football. I’ve signed a new five-year contract and had a good year so hopefully I’ll be back in the green jersey in September.”
Grealish’s dazzling display in the FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool sends his profile into overdrive, with England boss Roy Hodgson under pressure to act. “Jack will ultimately make the decision on his international future but nothing has changed for him since he made that statement last month,” said his father, Kevin.
After claiming Grealish wasn’t yet ready for an occasion like the Euro qualifier against Scotland in June, O’Neill performs a u-turn by trying to include him in the panel for the double-header which began with a friendly against his native England on June 7. It spectacularly backfires. “We appreciated the call from Martin yesterday but there was no way Jack was going to accept,” explained his father, Kevin. “I reiterated to him that we told (U-21 manager) Noel King that Jack was taking the year out to concentrate on Aston Villa.”
Still undecided, Grealish initiates meetings with both O’Neill and Hodgson. Accompanying to both summits are his father and agent David Manasseh, who also acts for Gareth Bale. O’Neill reveals his talks to be fruitful, adding a decision is looming, while a less patient Hodgson pleads publicly for the Brummie to end the saga.
True to his word, a 20-year-old Grealish settles on his international future. Disappointingly for Ireland, he jumps ship. “I have decided to give my allegiance to England,” said Grealish yesterday. “It was not an easy decision as Ireland has a special place with me through my family. However, I have decided to represent my country of birth.”
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