Grealish has to want Ireland as much as Ireland wants him

Grealish has to want Ireland as much as Ireland wants him

Is Jack Grealish Ireland's next big star or is he about to become the country's biggest loss since the IMF rolled into town and took away our financial sovereignty?

Swallow the hype and you'd swear it was Lionel Messi who was wavering between the nation he has represented at underage level and the country of his birth. Instead it is a teenager who has made just five starts for Aston Villa that we are in a pickle about.

He's good, yes and against Liverpool in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, he looked a million dollars.

But we've been here before with precocious teenagers. Some look the part and fade away. Others mature into legends of the game. Only time can determine which road Grealish will take.

Meanwhile the path Martin O'Neill wants him to walk along is towards Ireland. "My stance is clear," said O'Neill last year when Grealish asked for some head space away from the Irish set-up to sort out his club career. "I'd love to have him on board. I have met him, spoken to him. He said he wanted a little time. I've absolutely no problem with granting that to him and have left it with him."

In other words: 'I won't call you. You call me'.

The phone hasn't hopped in nine months.  Grealish's silence is a story in itself. The kid, it appears, is hedging his bets. Pursued by England yet wanted by Ireland, he has a significant choice to make.

"Grealish’s intentions regarding Ireland remain a little unclear, but if he does finally end up in a senior squad I would give him one bit of advice: study what Stephen Ireland did and do the opposite," said Stephen Hunt in his Sunday Independent column.
"Stephen Ireland wasn’t unpopular when he was in the Ireland squad, but when he left it and the stories swirled around about why he might have left, it became tiresome and as far as the players in the squad were concerned, so did he.
"Grealish is far from this stage. He’s had his exile before he has actually become a squad member, but there is a danger that it would be difficult if that process goes on much longer."

Jack Grealish celebrates scoring a goal for the Republic of Ireland at under 21 level.  Photo: INPHO. Jack Grealish celebrates scoring a goal for the Republic of Ireland at under 21 level. Photo: INPHO.

Hunt's point of view is widely shared because for most people, representing your country isn't just about having talent. It is about believing in the shirt you wear and the people you represent.

Appreciative of this fact, O'Neill made it clear last Sunday that he wasn't going to park outside Grealish's Solihull home and beg him to come on board. Instead he subtly pointed out what Grealish, rather than Ireland, have missed out on.

"I've been involved close to 18 months," said O'Neill "and if he was available to us he would have played for us by now, regardless of the fact he was not getting starts at Aston Villa. We'd have had enough friendly games that would have allowed him to get an opportunity to make an impact at senior level."

Many, including Shay Given, reckon he could make a major impact immediately. Given, in fact, would have him in the team to play Scotland. O'Neill, however, would not. "It's not that Jack lacks confidence," said O'Neill.
"He is full of self-belief. But he's a young lad and to put him into a massive game like that would be wrong.

"Even to apply pressure on someone to come in to the squad because he thinks then that he might play in the game would be something I would be hesitant to do."

In the meantime, he may start for Villa in the FA Cup final - a game plenty of people would consider to be bigger than Ireland's date with Scotland, on a stage he believes he was born to walk on.

“Jack is good and perhaps he knows he’s good," said Tim Sherwood recently. "You know what he said to me when I told him he was playing? He just said: ‘About time!'
“He's not fazed. He knows the fabric of the club. He knows every turnstile at Villa Park. No one cares more than Jack Grealish. But it's not just about his heart and desire to keep. It's also about his ability and what he carries. He's aware, he can open teams up, he can dribble past people, he's got a massive future at this football club."

Has he a future with Ireland, though?

No one really knows. And despite the panic and the pressure being applied on O'Neill to arrange another meeting and persuade him to come aboard, the Ulsterman is right to delay the courtship and play a little hard to get.

If Grealish truly feels Irish, he'll jump aboard. If he doesn't, he won't. Irrespective of how good he is, that remains the core issue. No team, at any level, is well served by a player who is indifferent to the cause. Grealish has to want Ireland as much as Ireland wants him.