“We quickly realised that was how he saw himself.”
Martin O’Neill has been speaking about the meeting he had with Jack Grealish where the player informed him of his decision to play for England rather than the Republic of Ireland.
O’Neill, the Ireland manager at the time, was accompanied by his assistant Roy Keane. It quickly became apparent that Grealish would declare for his native England ahead of Ireland, the country he represented at underage level.
The meeting appears to have taken place in 2015 after Grealish became a first-team regular with Aston Villa.
“Jack is English.”
“When it became clear that, after he had cemented his place in the Aston Villa first team, he had a decision to make in terms of his international allegiance Roy [Keane] and I went to meet Jack and his father,” O’Neill told the Telegraph.
“Jack is English. Although he had enjoyed playing for Ireland, when we spoke to him, we quickly realised that was how he saw himself.
O’Neill said that, while he and Keane hoped that Grealish would remain with Ireland, they respected his decision.
The former Celtic manager claims that the situation may have been different if Grealish had been born or grew up in Ireland.
The Villa captain’s link to the country was through his grandparents. O’Neill also said that there were commercial concerns at play.
“The thing that struck us both was that not only was Jack born and raised in Birmingham, his dad was a Brummie too,” he said.
“It was frustrating at the time but in those conversations, it was also clear that, commercially, there would be a bigger boost for him if he could make it with England.”
“He had qualities as a player we did not have in abundance in the squad.”
Gareth Southgate called Grealish into the England squad for the first time this week for games against Iceland and Denmark. The 24-year-old could make his senior international debut in one of the ties.
O’Neill believes the Villa star would have earned ‘many’ Ireland caps by now. The former Leicester City manager also said that he scouted Grealish while the player was on loan with Notts County during the 2013/14 season.
However, he felt the midfielder wasn’t ready for senior international football at the time.
Grealish could have been a key player for Ireland
“He was playing for Ireland’s Under-21s and physically, he was nowhere near as strong as he is now,” O’Neill said.
“But there were definitely signs he could be a really good player.”
Finally, O’Neill says that had Grealish remained with Ireland, he would have been part of the squad for Euro 2016.
And that the team may have reached the 2018 World Cup with him in the team, such is his quality.
Last year, the new Ireland manager Stephen Kenny said that both Grealish and Declan Rice should still be playing for the Boys in Green.
According to Kenny, under the new regime at the FAI, talented players are fast-tracked quicker through the underage sides. As such, they reach the senior team quicker than they did a few years ago.
Yet, according to O’Neill, Grealish wasn’t ready for senior international football when he was in the Ireland set-up.
And, by the time he was, his allegiance to the country of his birth outweighed his previous commitment to Ireland.