Declaring for Ireland is not some Noble cause but about the player giving his best

The news that Mark Noble is seriously considering declaring for Ireland has caused a stir

‘I know these players. Sure, a new manager will not change three, four or five. A new manager will continue the same way.” A year on, Giovanni Trapattoni’s parting words linger like a banshee’s curse. The Irish squad remains as he left it. The closest Martin O’Neill has come to finding fresh talent is to recall Shay Given from international retirement.

In that context, last week's news that Mark Noble was seriously considering declaring for Ireland qualified as pretty exciting.

Noble is a decent Premier League midfielder who played 20 times for England U21s but never made the senior squad because the places were being hogged by better players – Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick, Parker, Milner, Barton.

Knowing even Gerrard and Lampard couldn't go on forever, Noble played the waiting game. But last week, when Roy Hodgson released the first post-Gerrard/Lampard squad, Noble saw that he was now losing out to younger players like Fabian Delph and Jack Colback.


Yesterday Noble appeared on Sky's Goals on Sunday. "You think I'm an English midfield player, you think you're gonna get a chance," he said. "But Colback and Delph did as well...I bet they've been thinking about that all their whole lives as well...It gives me a chance to go fishing on the weekend, enjoy some quiet time."

Go fishing? What about playing for the Republic of Ireland?

Full Irish

“My nan and grandad are full Irish, my mum’s born here but her bloodline is full Irish,” Noble said, unaware that in Ireland the phrase only ever refers to breakfasts. (Of course, in England people call it a full English).

He admitted his agent had spoken to Ireland, but he insisted “I haven’t really thought about it”. He sounded like he was prepared to play the waiting game a little longer. “It’s the pinnacle of every English boy’s career to play for England.”

Would it feel strange to pull on the green shirt? “A little bit…but you never know. Football’s a strange game… hopefully I’ll make a decision in the next couple of weeks.”

Noble’s apparent lack of enthusiasm was met with internet derision. Why chase a guy who doesn’t want to play for us when there are lads out there who’d kill for that shirt, it’s a disgrace, etc.

Presumably these fans would have preferred Noble to gush like Tom Cruise when Eamon Gilmore presented him with his Certificate of Irish Heritage. "I knew I was Irish but I had no idea of the depth of it," Cruise said. "It goes all the way back to the 12th century...It's great being Irish. I want to visit the land of my ancestors and the castle that they had...It's a lovely day in Dublin."

Consider it from Noble's point of view. Imagine the reaction from Noble's West Ham team-mates if, aged 27, he suddenly realised he was Irish. Imagine the reaction of his manager Sam Allardyce, who once threatened to knock out Kevin Kilbane if he rejected a call-up to England U18s.

Noble's quandary was summed up by Roy Keane in a 2011 interview on Cork's LifeFM: "They [granny-rule players] are saying: 'I probably can't get capped for another country so I'll pick Ireland'."

The decision Noble ultimately makes will tell us how good a player he still thinks he can be.

That 2011 Keane interview makes interesting reading in the light of the efforts to recruit guys like Noble. Back then Keane didn’t sound like a fan of the ancestry rule.

“Eventually it’s going to be Spot the Irishman on the pitch,” he said. “I know we have to be open-minded over which players are eligible...but now it’s getting a bit silly. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be claiming to be Irish.” Instead O’Neill has found that Tom, Dick and Harry aren’t interested.

Irish accent

Back then Keane also remarked that some “Irish” players had been “English through and through”. But what does that even mean? What would make someone Irish through and through? Having an Irish accent? Knowing the words to

Amhrán na bhFiann?

Calling a full English breakfast a full Irish?

It’s hard to say. What we can say is that none of this affects whether someone might be a good player for Ireland. The cultural packaging is for public consumption. The team itself is an alliance of professionals who each have their own reasons for being there. Some of them might genuinely be playing for “the country”, whatever that means, but others are in it for personal glory, or because they feel they owe it to their families, or it’s a good career move.

Their individual motivations don’t matter; all that matters is whether they give their best. It’s 13 years today since Jason McAteer’s (second) goal against Holland. McAteer knew about as much about Ireland as Noble, and did anyone care when that ball hit the net?

Keane’s stance on foreign-born Irish players has presumably softened now that Ireland’s talent vacuum is partly his problem. It might hurt Irish pride to see a merely decent player like Noble agonising over whether to settle for Ireland, but right now we’re beggars, not choosers. We can have our pride, or we can have a slightly better quality of player, but we can’t have both.