The year was 1971 and Irish manager John Giles has made a journey over to London to see a promising Dubliner line up at Highbury.
The Republic of Ireland have an upcoming fixture with the Soviet Union and Giles is aware that he needs all the help he can get.
The 17-year-old in action that had done enough to impress Giles on that fateful day and he put him straight on the team for the grand showdown. The Irish won the game 3-0 and that 17 year old went on to play and win titles for the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Inter Milan; his name was Liam Brady.
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“Sometimes you only need to see a player once” said Giles in reference to his selection of Brady at 17.
Brady was an exceptional talent, arguably the most talented player the Irish have ever had, with his unique ability to jink past players and almost relish the challenges from opposing players.
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Flash forward to 2015 and Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa have gone from being unable to buy a goal and facing relegation in the face to lining up at Wembley for an FA Cup Final encounter with a determined Arsenal side looking to defend the trophy they won last year.
Their last visit to Wembley, for the semi-final against Liverpool, witnessed the arrival of another teenager. As the Villains went down after the half an hour mark with a Philippe Coutiniho goal off the back of some horrific defending, many would feel that even the more experienced pro’s heads could have gone down.
“It’s written in the stars, its Stevie’s year, game over.”
But not this kid. Five minutes later, Jack Grealish received the ball on the left flank and glided past the Liverpool defence to set up Belgian striker Christian Benteke.
Suddenly it’s 1-1. The second half commences and Benteke is on the move again, as he bares down on goal who does he look to pass the ball to? This kid, he can handle it.
He takes it from the big Belgian and issues a perfectly placed pass to the skipper Fabian Delph and before you know it, Villa have taken the lead. Sunday April 19th 2015 was the day a 19-year-old brought up from the reserves dragged his side to their first FA Cup final since 1957.
Grealish’s stock has sky rocketed since the FA Cup tie, with many English fans calling for the teenager to be put straight on the national side. A couple of days before Villa defeated Liverpool, Irish manager Martin O’Neill was asked if he would put Grealish in the team for the Republics all important clash with Scotland in June.
“I’m not sure if the boy is ready for it” he said - a quote in which outspoken Irish journalist and former international Eamonn Dunphy rubbished as bad management.
The words of Johnny Giles are ringing in my ear now. Grealish is the next Liam Brady. We have seen in the past how players such as Francis Jeffers, Michael Bridges and Michael Ricketts have been nothing but overhyped youths who eventually faded into the distance.
Grealish is different. He is a different class and above all else, he’s a winner. In the same manner of Liam Brady, at 19-years-old he has lead the Villa revival under Sherwood. One can only imagine his influence on an international stage.
A tug of war is now ongoing between the Irish and the English for the player. Grealish has been involved at Irish level the whole way up for the duration of his youth career and many would feel that it should be a natural progression to go ahead and join up with the senior team.
But let’s be honest with ourselves for a second; if you have the option to play alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge or Johnny Walters and Richard Keogh who are you going to pick?
Especially if you are eligible for a duel passport. Grealish is a born and raised English man who qualifies for the Republic through his Irish father.
The 2014 World Cup proved that smaller teams can thrive as long as they have an astute tactical system in place, and two or three top players playing to their best.
Of the current crop of Irish players, the only individuals who may fall into the category of “top players” are a reluctant James McCarthy, who seems disinterested when he lines up for the Republic, while at Everton he is regarded as one of the brightest midfielders in the Premier League. The same goes for Seamus Coleman.
The rest of the squad would be lucky to get on the bench of a top four club. Grealish certainly falls under the category of a top player, and for the people who say he’s too young well then he will be a top player. It’s a sure thing.
There is a divide in the country of Ireland as of now. With the marriage referendum looming, the Jack Grealish debate is becoming as talked about.
The FAI are aware of the importance and talent of Grealish having awarded him with the FAI young player of the year after only playing two matches for the Under 21’s while wining and dining his family in Dublin for the night.
In Ireland, most kids are brought up with the dream of lifting the Sam Maguire at Croke Park.
We have a national sport, two of them in fact in Hurling and Gaelic Football and they will always first and foremost be the most popular and dominated sports in the country. And rightly so.
Even Niall Quinn, who has had an outstanding career in the game said in his autobiography that we would have done anything to win the All Ireland for his native Tipperary. In that regard, football or soccer as we call it here is very much a minority sport.
So I can forgive Jack Grealish for wanting to play with a country that has world class players and ambitions of winning the World Cup over qualifying once a decade for a big tournament and hoping for the best.
I want Jack Grealish to play with Ireland more than anyone. I am a passionate Irish fan who wants the national team to be the best we can be and I have absolutely no objection in any “plastic paddy” coming along to play for us if that’s going to make us better. We’ll take as many players as we can get so if a promising looking young player such as Jack Grealish or even Patrick Bramford comes along. What difference does it make if they take one year or 1one second to decide as long as they end up doing the business for us; and if they decide to play for England? Who cares as well! At least we tried.
I took great solace in the fact that Harry Kane was close to playing for us. The Irish management should be congratulated for chasing up quality young players like that. Give the national team a reputation for taking a punt on young players, when they won’t get that from England.
Jack Grealish is going all the way to the top with or without Ireland or England for that matter and if he chooses to play for us then we will be very very lucky to have him.
Give the kid a break huh?
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