O'Neill denies putting pressure on Grealish to declare allegiance
MARTIN O'NEILL has insisted he did not attempt to force Aston Villa starlet Jack Grealish's hand by offering him the chance to commit to the Republic of Ireland once again.
O'Neill revealed on Tuesday that the Birmingham-born 19-year-old, who is currently at the centre of a tug-of-war between Ireland and England, has rejected the chance to join up with the squad for next month's friendly against Roy Hodgson's side and the Euro 2016 qualifier clash with Scotland. However, despite months of patient pursuit, during which assistant manager Roy Keane also went to work on the teenager, Grealish is sticking to his guns after revealing earlier in the year he would make his decision at the start of next season.
O'Neill initially accepted that stance, but decided to test the water, with the youngster having forced his way into the first-team picture at Villa in recent weeks to rave reviews.
He said: "I don't think it's an attempt to pre-empt anything. I think Jack had mentioned before, in fairness to him, that he didn't want to make a decision at that time. Again, my point was that then, since he wasn't a regular member of the side, it seemed less important at that stage. I still think really, regardless of that, that bringing him into the squad for a week's training and seeing how he gets on, obviously in an attempt to try to see that the FAI would actually look after him... I think they have done at every level, believe it or not.
"There might have been something in that, but at the end of the day he has done well enough at Aston Villa to be thought of as a proper senior player. I spoke to both Jack and his father and I think Jack just didn't want to make his mind up at this stage. He wanted to complete the season at Aston Villa - there are some important games for them coming up - and he wants to make his decision at some time in the future."
O'Neill admitted his disappointment at Grealish's decision, but did not consider it a snub.
He said: "No. I don't take it personally. I think Jack is pretty firm in what he wants to do and that's fine. He has been doing very well recently and it would have been nice, but that's Jack's decision. I spoke to the father and said I would like to have brought him into it, but of course you don't want to force someone who might not want to make that decision just at this moment."
As long as Grealish remains uncapped by Ireland, there is the possibility Hodgson could persuade him his international future could lie with England, although O'Neill was not to be drawn on the subject.
He said: "I've no idea. I think you'll have to ask Roy. Seriously, I don't want to sound as if England are miles better than us, but I think it would be difficult to get into the England squad just at this moment."
If Grealish's absence was the main topic for discussion from the squad announcement in Dublin, there were notable first inclusions for Brentford midfielder Alan Judge and Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney in a provisional 33-man party. There were places too for veterans John O'Shea and Robbie Keane, despite both currently being on the injured list at their respective clubs, with the Sunderland defender battling to shake off a rib problem and the LA Galaxy striker nursing a groin strain.
However, O'Neill is confident both will be able to meet up on or around June 1, with his 65-goal striker having confirmed he will be heading across the Atlantic once again.
Asked about Keane's fitness, the Derry man said: "He's okay, he's alright. He's just texted a message through to say he's okay."
Republic of Ireland squad: D Forde (Millwall), S Given (Aston Villa), K Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), D Randolph (Birmingham); R Keogh (Derby), M Wilson (Stoke), S Coleman (Everton), C Christie (Derby), J O'Shea (Sunderland), A Pearce (Reading), P McShane (Hull), S Ward (Burnley); J McCarthy (Everton), J Hendrick (Derby), H Arter (Bournemouth), G Whelan (Stoke), A McGeady (Everton), J McClean (Wigan), A Judge (Brentford), R Brady (Hull), A Pilkington (Cardiff), S Quinn, D Meyler (both Hull), W Hoolahan (Norwich); R Keane (LA Galaxy), S Long (Southampton), D Murphy (Ipswich), J Walters (Stoke), K Doyle (Colorado Rapids), A Stokes (Celtic), D McGoldrick (Ipswich), A Rooney (Aberdeen), S Cox (Reading).