While the Irish U21s crashed out of Euro qualification with this month’s defeat to Montenegro, one player lit up the Tallaght Stadium with his performance. Jack Grealish could be the Republic’s successor to Damien Duff, writes Dave O’Grady, host of the YBIG Football show.
After about 30 minutes into Ireland’s under 21’s recent qualifier with Montenegro, local Tallaght schoolchildren were shouting the words “Go on Jack” and “He’s deadly.” They were indeed referring to the slick skilful nature of Notts County ‘loanee’ Jack Grealish who dazzled before their very eyes. They were seeing one of the youngest players on the field that day display natural skills which Irish football fans have not seen since the emergence of Damian Duff. Grealish is only 18 and already the Irish soccer public have been filled with excitement due to the potential prospects of the youngster.
The 18-year-old really caught the eye when he starred for Aston Villa in the NextGen series, effectively the Champions League of youth football in Europe. It was a real platform for Grealish to display his superior technical ability with silky footwork and the eye for goal. He was also one of the youngest ever players to make a Premier League squad for Aston Villa when he was only 16.
He is described in many football columns as a ‘wonderkid’ and the ‘next big thing’ but this can be a dangerous assumption as particularly from an Irish viewpoint, we have seen several of these hyped players fall from grace. You only have to look back as far as Conor Clifford.
Dubbed as the next Frank Lampard, Clifford seemed like an unstoppable force when he captained Chelsea to winning the FA Youth Cup, but after a series of unsuccessful loan spells, the Dubliner found himself released from Stamford Bridge and is now playing for Southend in League 2.
Nevertheless, the signs are much more positive for Grealish. He has really thrived at Notts County and the club were delighted to extend his loan until the end of the season. Despite clearly being targeted by big League 1 defenders this season, the winger has remained totally committed to the cause and given everything in their battle to avoid the drop. What’s particularly pleasing is that Grealish clearly loves playing for Notts County and wants the club to do well. He isn’t just another Premier League loan player trying to get games and saying goodbye when the first chance comes to get back to his top flight club. Grealish was delighted when Villa agreed to extend his stay at Meadow Lane.
Grealish’ character is something that will stand to him when he returns to Villa at the end of the season. Aston Villa is a real family club and Jack is a family man. His father, who’s from Dublin, has been present at many Notts County and Ireland games and was there to see his son score a first goal in League 1.
International football has really suited Grealish’s unique style of play. His fearlessness to take on the opposition is hugely valuable to his Irish team-mates and his excellent control of the ball and distribution has allowed players like Sean Murray and Samir Carruthers to constantly make space and create chances.
There have been worries over Grealish jumping ship and playing for England as he was born in the West Midlands but this is very misguided. After all, he has played for Ireland through under 15’s up as far as under 21’s. Last year he won the FAI’s youth player award, earning him huge praise across all Irish football circles. Jack has in fact, turned down the option to join the England set up on several occasions in the past, reaffirming his commitment to the Boys in Green.
Many say that the key reason for his decision to represent Ireland over England was due his positive experience while in the Irish set up. Republic under 21 manager Noel King has shown great faith in Grealish and has been singing his praises with every interview. In fact, the whole Under 21’s management team deserve a lot of credit for the way they look after all their players. Hopefully, gone are the days of the bust-ups with Don Givens and players refusing call ups.
However, the most obvious reason for Grealish’s decision to play for Ireland surely must come down to his strong Irish background. His father is from Dublin and his grandparents are from Galway, Kerry and Dublin. He almost has the four corners covered.
He is very similar to current Irish stars Seamus Coleman, David Meyler, Shane Long and many more as he comes from a GAA background. Jack played Gaelic football up until the age of 14. He even scored a point for Warwickshire in Croke Park, an accolade that few Irish soccer players can boast Surely he can’t get more Irish that that?
There is a lot of excitement over what the next step will be for Jack Grealish. All going to plan, he should be in line for a call up to Martin O’Neill’s extended Irish squad for a number of friendlies at the end of the season. This could be the start of much bigger things to come.
Let’s just wait and see.
Dave O’Grady hosts The YBIG Football Show podcast- The Irish soccer show by the fans for the fans! The ultimate discussion by fans about the Boys in Green and domestic soccer.