“They would have been fast-tracked earlier and into the first team.”
Stephen Kenny has said that the Republic of Ireland lost Declan Rice and Jack Grealish because there wasn’t a coherent pathway between the various underage teams and the senior Ireland side.
During Martin O’Neill’s tenure as Ireland manager, both players rejected Ireland to declare for England. In 2015, Grealish opted to try play for the country of his birth after impressing for Ireland at underage level. Earlier this year, Rice decided to play for England after making three appearances for Ireland in friendlies during 2018.
According to Kenny, the situation could have been very different if there was a discernible pathway between the underage teams and the senior side.
The Ireland under-21 manager, who will succeed Mick McCarthy as the senior boss in August 2020, made the comments when speaking on Eamon Dunphy’s podcast The Stand.
“If there was a better relationship at the time between under-15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and senior managers, you would feel that both Jack Grealish and Declan Rice would definitely be playing for Ireland now,” Kenny said.
“They would have been fast tracked earlier and into the first team earlier in competitive (games).”
The former Dundalk manager stated that the pair should have been included in the senior Ireland squad “much earlier.” Kenny also said that both players evidently felt Irish as well as English.
“They did feel Irish. Jack Grealish played Gaelic football for Warwickshire all the way up in England. He did feel a sense of Irishness,” he said.
“People feel English and Irish or Nigerian and Irish or whatever it is. I understand that. We can’t be naive, it’s not always black or white.”
Kenny also disputed any suggestions that Rice or Grealish lacked the quality at the time to make the step-up to the senior Ireland team.
“Jack Grealish is an outstanding player, you wouldn’t have to be a genius to work (that) out.”
The Ireland under-21 manager said that there “needs to be a coordinated approach between all of the managers” for the country to thrive in football and that the Ireland coaches at all age groups “must be one unit rather than a series of individuals.”
Kenny said that this is currently happening, with regular meetings between the Ireland managers at all levels – including the senior boss, McCarthy.
“I think we identify our best players early and understand what we need to do to give them the best chance of fulfilling their potential – we must have a clear vision of that.”
However, the former Shamrock Rovers coach was adamant that Ireland must not chase dual-nationality players who may not be fully committed to the team.
“We don’t need to try and convince people they’re Irish. We’re not interested in that. We need people that it means everything to them.”
You can listen to the interview with Dunphy here.