Home Football Opinion: Reluctantly Irish? It’s Time We Focus Entirely On Developing Our Own Talent

Opinion: Reluctantly Irish? It’s Time We Focus Entirely On Developing Our Own Talent

Why do we bend over backwards to accommodate the ‘reluctant Irish’? Time after time, every effort is afforded to coax individuals to play for the Republic of Ireland when their heart quite clearly belongs to another land. It’s time we start developing the next Robbie Keane and Damien Duff rather than be preoccupied converting other nation’s also rans.

There’s something about Ireland’s pursuit of Brentford’s Scott Hogan that just doesn’t sit well with me. In fact, his hesitancy to declare for the Republic equally rankles. International football is seen as the pinnacle of achievement in the footballing world. The best of the best are always internationally recognised. There should never be any hesitancy in declaring your nationality. In this instance, you either see yourself as Irish or you don’t.

We’ve had it before with Jamie O’Hara and, more recently, with Jack Grealish. The cringeworthy pursuit of a mediocre player at worst or a promising player at best, followed by the usual response which screams, “Let’s see what happens with England first before I commit to being Irish”.

UEFA Under 21 Qualifying Ground Group Six 15/11/2013 Republic of Ireland vs Faroe Islands Ireland's Jack Grealish celebrates scoring his side's third goal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Rumours emerged in the aftermath of Ireland’s 1-0 win over Georgia on Thursday that Harry Arter was considering an international U-turn. The talk was largely dispelled on Friday, but such a move would open up the biggest can of worms about national representation since the days of Tony Cascarino. It would make a mockery of the ‘competitive game’ rule and be following ridiculously down the same slope as athletics where we see Kenyan after Kenyan defect to the oil rich nation only to be well rewarded.

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It’s time we stop this pursuit of the ‘reluctant Irish’ and put our efforts into nurturing genuine Irish talent that would walk barefoot on glass to wear the green jersey at the Aviva. If that means making do with an average team, that’s fine by me.

Let’s not kid ourselves, pursuit of these 1st and 2nd generation ‘Irish’ footballers is, and always has been, a desperate measure to paper over the cracks of our dwindling ability as a nation to produce international class footballers. Instead of investing money to produce and unearth the next Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, we’re going the route of trying to convert other nation’s also rans.

Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland - UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier

I’m particularly surprised at Roy Keane using the phrase, when referring to Hogan, “please God he’d like to come on board”. This for a player, who, only a few years ago was playing for Woodley Sports in the far reaches of England’s non league. If we’re at the stage where we’re praying to God for Scott Hogan, then surely we’re screwed anyway and that’s no disrespect intended to Scott Hogan.

As a player, I never had the opportunity to play for Ireland at any level but had the honour of singing the national anthem once before the FAI Cup final in 2007. It was one of the most emotional, inspiring and hair raising experiences of my career. If the national anthem of your country doesn’t do that to you, then you’re playing for the wrong country. Need I remind you all that ‘Irishman’ Matt Holland once belted out the English national anthem at the play-off final? A strange act in any Irish eyes.

International football is dangerously becoming an extension of club football. Players are switching allegiances, and the nationalising of individuals is becoming an all too regular practice. I would much rather watch Dundalk’s Daryl Horgan or Cork’s Seanie Maguire in an Irish shirt than some chancer using our national team as a reserve choice.

How proud did it make you when watching Robbie Brady’s tears after his dream was realised at the Euros? That’s what international football should be about. What message does it send out to lads like Maguire and Horgan, who are coming through the Irish system and excelling but who are also constantly being overlooked? Being Irish is indeed a wonderful thing, just ask James McClean or Martin O’Neill for that matter.

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland celebrates his team's 1-0 win in the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Given our history and the vast Irish diaspora dotted around the world, being Irish is a special honour and privilege. Wherever Irish descendants raise children, they’re children are either brought up Irish or they’re not. In the case of Arter and Hogan, both were born in Britain and the former has represented Ireland at underage level. These lads will feel Irish or they won’t. They’ll know that ‘taytos’ mean crisps and that chocolate kimberleys only come out at Christmas but, joking aside, there should never be any hesitancy in declaring your nationality. You’re either a proud Irishman or you’re one of the unlucky ones whose allegiance lies with another nation.

If Arter does back track on Ireland, and I find it unimaginable that he will, it will be perceived in the eyes of all Irishmen and women as a despicable act of treason. If he does back track, then whose underage and senior caps has he stolen? Whose progression has he hampered or stopped altogether? If he wants to go, good riddance. Maybe we’ll be forced into promoting Stephen Gleeson, for instance, who’s been a regular at a resurgent Birmingham City this season and must be brain damaged from banging his head against that international brick wall for so long.

As a footballing nation, we owe it to ourselves to develop and promote our own but unfortunately, like other international teams, it seems the pursuit of instant results overrules any hope of promoting our own and building a homegrown or home based legacy for the next generation. The beauty of Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Paul McGrath, Liam Brady – and I could go on – was that they were unmistakably Irish. They captured the imagination. They inspired a generation. That’s what we should be striving for.

Leon McSweeney, Pundit Arena

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