He’s the most talked about Irish player in England and, in all probability, will be the most talked about player at Martin O’Neill’s latest squad announcement today.
But, for all that the manager likes to keep his cards close to his chest, there is no expectation that Jack Grealish will be sensationally brought into the Ireland panel for the friendly against England and the Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland next month.
The clamour surrounding the 19-year-old has mounted since his commanding FA Cup semi-final display for Aston Villa against Liverpool. For O’Neill, the timing could hardly have been more inconvenient since, on the morning of that game, quotes had appeared in the Sunday papers in which the Ireland manager made it clear that, in his opinion, the vital qualifier at home to the Scots was always going to be too severe a test in which to take a chance on the young man.
To be fair to O’Neill, however, he made those remarks against the backdrop of Grealish having himself already made clear at the FAI International Awards in March – at which he was named the U21 Player of the Year – that he planned to park the issue of international football until September and concentrate instead on his club career.
In the short-term that strategy has certainly proved productive, with Grealish emerging as one of Villa’s go-to guys under Tim Sherwood’s management as the club not only improved its Premier League form but also claimed a place in the FA Cup Final.
The upshot is that England are now believed to be paying much greater attention to someone who is, of course, still eligible to play for both countries. So expect O’Neill to be asked to tease out the current situation at some length at his noon press conference in Dublin today.
Meanwhile, Villa boss Sherwood has been singing the praises of Grealish and dismissing fears the young star will get bullied out of games.
He said: “I’ve never seen someone get kicked so much in training. He’s getting a lot of practice. Next week he’s wearing Alastair Cook’s pads.
“He almost likes it. No-one likes getting hurt but he loves bodies around him. You give the ball to him in a tight area - that’s something I always work on, trying to create a melee, but he finds a pass out. It allows us to double up down the side.
“He’s doing something right. Just continue what you’re doing. He doesn’t roll around on the floor.”
Sherwood’s reasoning for Grealish’s refreshing attitude to rough play may not go down too well with O’Neill and the FAI, however.
“He’s almost a little bit too honest, maybe it’s the British in him,” he suggested.
But, most of all, Sherwood is taken with the player’s confidence.
“It’s just the way he is, the way he plays. He’s always been like that ever since I’ve seen him play from 16 years of age in youth teams. He likes to show everyone that he’s a top player. You don’t really get the credit for it until you do it in front of 39,000 fans. He makes the difference.”
Also well up on the agenda for Martin O’Neill today will be the well-being, or otherwise, of Robbie Keane who has now missed the last six games for LA Galaxy with a groin injury which he sustained late on the team’s defeat to Vancouver on April 4.
Already out of consideration for O’Neill are Everton midfielder Darron Gibson (broken metatarsal) and, in all probability, Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark (knee ligament).
O’Neill is expected to name an extended squad for the prolonged and busy end of season period which sees his side play Northern Ireland in a behind-closed -doors training game at the Aviva Stadium on June 4 before the friendly against England on June 7 and then the Euro qualifier against Scotland on June 13, also at the same venue.
Scotland boss Gordan Strachan has already indicated that he will effectively name two squads – with minimal crossover between them – for their friendly against Qatar at Easter Road on June 5 and their Euros date with the Irish in Dublin eight days later.
In other news, Harry Kane is poised to line up against Ireland next month at U21 level.
The Tottenham Hotspur striker, eligible for Ireland through his Galway-born father Pat, last year rejected Martin O’Neill’s advances in order to stick with his homeland.
Although the 21-year-old featured for the full England team in the last two games against Lithuania and Italy in March, Roy Hodgson has assigned him to Gareth Southgate’s squad for the upcoming European U-21 Championship finals in Czech Republic.
Part of their preparations is a friendly against Noel King’s Ireland on Friday, June 5 at St George’s Park, their training base ahead of the finals a fortnight later.
While the English team will have top Premier League talent like Kane, Saido Berahino and Danny Ings leading their attack, King is expected to experiment by introducing a number of younger players.
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