Jack Grealish is set to captain his Aston Villa side at the weekend when they face Manchester City at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final.
But the 24-year-old showed an early flair for having the ball in his hands as well as at his feet.
Grealish who has Irish ties with grandparents hailing from Dublin, Galway and Kerry was born in Birmingham before settling in Solihull. The 24-year-old came up through their academy but on Sunday’s he would take to the Gaelic field and represent his local GAA club, John Mitchels.
Speaking to The Athletic, one of Grealish’s old GAA coaches Kevin McGinnity recounted his football ability “whether it’s Gaelic or soccer”.
“You could see that from an early age. He was able to retain the ball, use the ball, he would control games. We had a really good little side and he gelled it all. He’d be able to see a run or a pass and whether the ball came out of his hand or off his foot, it got there. And that’s what he does now.”
“Jack started with us at under-10s, I think. He was brought to the club by his family — the Sharkeys would be cousins of his. They’ve played for the club over the years and still do.”
Grealish is currently the most fouled player in the Premier League with the 24-year-old suffering 122 times this season 34 more times than his closest rival, Wilfred Zaha. McGinnity credits Grealish’s toughness to his time spent playing Gaelic.
“He was small, but he was strong and he was able to take contact even then. His dad Kevin said recently that it toughened Jack up; he used to take some awful rattles.
“We get a lot of rugby lads who come to us, because it’s mainly a summer game, and when they go back to their clubs their coaches ask us: ‘What are you doing to these lads? They’re so strong.’ It certainly had an impact on Jack.”
Grealish played with the Irish youth team up to under-21 level, during his time in the green jersey he won FAI Player of the Year at under-17 and under-21 level.
Despite his heavy involvement with the Irish youth setup, Grealish declared for England in 2015. Shay Given who featured in goal for Aston Villa, detailed an occasion when he sat down with the young playmaker to discuss his decision.
“I talked to him about his family, his background, playing for Ireland. I said he’d play every game for Ireland but he won’t for England. And he’s still not played for England.” Given told The Athletic.
“If he had come across, he’d have 30 caps for Ireland by now, and if I was Mick McCarthy I’d still be on to him every day.
“From a selfish perspective, I’d love to see Jack in the Irish midfield, making things happen. But it’s easy to judge, it’s difficult to decide.”