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Why Martin O’Neill needs to swallow his pride and call up Jack Grealish

The Ireland manager is set to name his squad for next month’s games against England and Scotland, and Aston Villa’s young schemer should be in there.

Grealish has been in terrific for Aston Villa in recent weeks.
Grealish has been in terrific for Aston Villa in recent weeks.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Updated 07.45

IT MAY BE A question he has grown tired of answering, but Martin O’Neill can look forward to being quizzed on the whereabouts of Jack Grealish on Tuesday if he is the notable absentee from the latest Ireland squad.

While always polite in his responses, the Derry man appears to have become almost bored by mentions of the player at recent media events. Now more than ever though, the Aston Villa teenager is sure to be one of the first points up for discussion.

Call it unfortunate timing, but O’Neill’s declaration last month that Ireland’s upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland would be “too big an occasion” for Grealish appears to have been misjudged.

Three days after that press conference, the 19-year-old produced a man-of-the-match performance in an FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool. He has since shone against Manchester City, Everton and West Ham — where he set up the winning goal during another eye-catching display last weekend.

There are those who will argue a player making his first steps in the Premier League doesn’t deserve half the coverage he has been given by the Irish media, but it is clear that he is beginning to justify the hype.

Apart from numerous columns and opinion pieces, with ex-internationals on both side of the fence wading into the debate, Match of the Day dedicated a segment to Grealish on Saturday while Chris Kamara was raving about him the following morning on Sky Sports.

If he wasn’t on Roy Hodgson’s radar this time last year, he certainly is now.

Of course, it is impossible to know what the player himself is thinking. Is he genuinely still undecided about who represent or simply holding out for a call-up to England’s senior squad?

His suggestion at the FAI Awards that he will return to the Irish U21 set-up later this year was echoed by his father Kevin, who also admitted that there is still a decision to be made about his long-term international future.

Martin O'Neill O'Neill names his squad for the England and Scotland games this afternoon. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

All the way through the saga, O’Neill has given an impression that he is unwilling to go chasing players but now is the time to swallow that pride and force Grealish’s hand by calling him up for the double-header against England and Scotland next month.

Worst case scanario, he declines, opts for England and we can all get back to focusing on Euro 2016 qualification with a group of players who are proud to be involved. Best case, a squad that has been crying out for new blood gains the type of creative spark it has been severely lacking.

The fact that Ireland’s next fixture happens to be against the county he is also eligible to play for means his inclusion would obviously attract a media circus ahead of a potential debut at the Aviva Stadium in June.

A week earlier, however, Grealish will have lined in front of 89,000 fans at Wembley and he has already shown he isn’t fazed by the big occasion. In fact, Tim Sherwood insists it brings the best out of him.

– First published 21.30, 11 May

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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