Gallen: 'I had an opportunity to play for Ireland and it never happened'
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Gallen: 'I had an opportunity to play for Ireland and it never happened'

KEVIN GALLEN was born in west London, grew up in Acton, and became centre forward for his boyhood club, Queens Park Rangers, scoring 90 goals in 369 appearances for the Super Hoops.

You could say he fulfilled his dreams as a player, but for Irish fans who hoped to see him lead the line for the Boys in Green - they never got to see their wish become a reality.

Gallen’s parents, Jim and Tess, hail from Donegal and Mayo respectively.  Like many Irish who made London their home they met in the Garryowen dancehall in Hammersmith back in the 1960s.

It’s a familiar tale for lots of London Irish, but while three of their sons Kevin, Joe and Steve all went on to become professional footballers the best of the bunch never donned the green jersey. “I was asked by my two brothers who both played for Ireland at youth level, but I don’t think that counts as an official approach from the FAI,” Kevin Gallen joked.

“I was playing for England schoolboys when I was 15 which happened because I went to school in England. I’m not sure if the FAI were aware I qualified back then.”

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With the help of The Irish Post the FAI were contacted by Gallen when Brian Kerr was in charge as FIFA changed their rules regarding players switching their international allegiance.  Kerr seemed keen, but ultimately Gallen was left disappointed.

“He came to watch us play and I got a letter back from his secretary saying that he wanted to meet up with me and have a chat.  I was getting married in Dublin and told them what week I would be over, but nobody ever got back to me.

“It was disappointing because of all the stick I’d taken from everyone, I now had an opportunity to play for Ireland and it never happened.  I was playing as well as I’d ever played at the time - the only thing is I wasn’t playing in a QPR team that was a good as the one I played in previously.”

The debate still rumbles on around whether Aston Villa’s talented playmaker Jack Grealish – who won the Republic of Ireland Under 21 Player of the Year award on Sunday - will go on to represent Ireland at senior level.  Born in Birmingham, Grealish has played for Ireland from Under-15 to Under-21 level.

Gallen knows from experience that Grealish’s decision may be influenced by matters off the field.  “It’s politics. I’d say he has got an agent on to him as well.  An England international would probably command more wages at his club.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Grealish and whoever is advising him are holding out for a first team place with Ireland.  He might get called up by the England Under-21s and then Ireland will have to come in strong with a first team place.  I wouldn’t be surprised – that sort of thing happens.”

Gallen also believes the FAI should be careful not to call up players who have no real attachment to the country.  “I think there is a limit,” Gallen explains. “I don’t agree with calling up players who have never even been to the country. You are just giving lads a game.

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“My parents are Irish and my family is Irish, I think I can justifiably say that I could have played for Ireland.

“My Ireland is not Dublin, it is Mayo and Donegal where my parents are from – farm life, out in the country, listening to Irish music in pubs and stuff like that.

“When I hear people who have never been to Ireland in their lives, haven’t been brought up in any cultural Irish background, where your parents have left the country, but they take you back for the six week holiday and stuff like that, I do think you are stretching it a little bit too far.

“Maybe that old style Ireland is going. There’s still a lot of my friends I went to school with who have Irish parents and will go back still every summer, but I do think that is changing with the next generation.”

Kevin Gallen-n Kevin Gallen featured for England under 21s against the Republic of Ireland at Dalymount Park. Photo: INPHO.

 

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Gallen admits his interest in international football is not what it once was. “I’m not really the biggest fan of international football. I think the days when Jackie Charlton was in charge were exciting, but now I watched England in the last World Cup and they were disappointing, I watched Ireland in the European Championships and that was just so disappointing.

“When international week comes up now I’m devastated.  At the 1994 World Cup, we were all in America so we went to the Ireland v Mexico game in Orlando. Three months later I made my debut in the QPR first team.

“All I was concentrating on was playing for QPR. I never really grew up wanting to play for England or Ireland, I just wanted to play for QPR.

“That is where my loyalty has always been. I grew up in that area, started going to the matches with my Dad and brothers when I was four-years-old.

“I hadn’t been to an Ireland match in my life until I went in 1994.  I’d been to a few England matches because Wembley is round the corner, but my whole goal was to play for QPR.

“Once I got into the first team at QPR my family in Ireland would be asking me who I was going to play for at international, level but I’d already played for England at youth level so it was a closed shop.”

Gallen recalls when he featured for the England Under-21s against Ireland in 1995 alongside another QPR player who qualified to play for Ireland, Trevor Sinclair.  “I did interviews with the press in Ireland and they sort of twisted it a bit. They asked where my parents were from and the story was all over the back pages.

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“We played Ireland at Dalymount Park in Dublin and I got hammered by the fans. I was shocked, when my name was read out and every time I went to get the ball for a throw in or near the touchline I was getting plenty of stick from the fans.”

Gallen’s parents were present that day, but they never told him what do when it came to playing international football.“My parents never put any pressure on me to play for Ireland. My Dad has been going to QPR since 1967, he has probably been to 1,000 games or more.

“I bet I could count on one hand how many Ireland games he has gone to.  My parents never ask me about how Ireland or England are getting on, they just ask me about what’s going on at QPR.  QPR was always the number one in our house - always was, and still is.”