O’Neill no big fan of ‘granny rule’ but will pursue new recruits

Republic of Ireland boss says same rules will apply to Stoke City’s Stephen Ireland

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill makes his point at yesterday’s press conference in Blanchardstown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill makes his point at yesterday’s press conference in Blanchardstown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


He was never, he admits, a major fan of what became known as “the granny rule” when he was a player, but Martin O’Neill is a practical man, reluctant to be viewed as “foolish” for failing to recruit talent to the Irish cause so he will pursue new recruits in the new year, he confirmed yesterday, but won’t be begging anybody to join the cause.

“I’d like the players to have some enthusiasm about wanting to do it,” he said after an initial period during which there has been talk of him recruiting the likes of Mark Noble, Curtis Davies and Kyle Naughton.

“I might glean that from other sources and I probably would do but eventually, when I get to talk to the player, I’d like him to be bursting with enthusiasm. If he isn’t, well I can’t say that’s the end. I might have to do a bit of persuading but if I’m having to do an awful lot of persuading then I’m not wildly sure it’s worth it.”

Considerable potential
Noble and Davies are both reported to have distanced themselves from any possible declaration recently and O’Neill said that he had not in fact spoken directly with anyone, but there are clearly young players with considerable potential – like Chelsea’s Patrick Bamford, Manchester United’s Will Keane and possibly Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond – who might prove to be valuable recruits if they were inclined to abandon hopes of playing for England.

Even returning exiles have to show some level of commitment O’Neill suggested when he confirmed that the same rules would apply to Stephen Ireland. The 61 year-old admits to having previously been cool on the entire concept of a player switching his international team but, he says, he was never a hardliner on the issue.

‘Born in Canada’
“When we were in Northern Ireland we had Jimmy Nicholl who was actually born in Canada, but spent all his life in Belfast. Chris Nicholl was actually born in England. Did I ever think Chris ever never wanted to play for Northern Ireland? Absolutely not. In fact, I loved him playing in the team as he was great for us: so strong, he gave us a bit of protection at the back. He had an English voice but I never viewed him in any other way other than playing for Northern Ireland.

“Fast forward to now, whatever the rules are, as you say Jack used them to his advantage and in those days I don’t think anyone complained because the Republic hadn’t any real success in a long time and Jack brought success.

“If he brought success with Ray Houghton having a Scottish accent, who really cared? You talk about the ethics and the process of eligibility but if other countries are doing it and you felt because you had a stand on it, or didn’t do it to your detriment, I think people would probably pronounce you as rather foolish perhaps. If you are not stretching it beyond belief, well, I think I would have to use it. If I thought someone within these rules might improve our team I would use it.”

Pressed on just how he would feel about recruiting a player who clearly wanted to play for another country but simply hadn’t managed to earn a call-up, he hinted at some sense of discomfort but ultimately suggested he would play by the rules as he found them.

‘Go with them’
“If they’re unable to get into someone else, I know it seems to cheapen it somewhere along the way but are you going to . . . At this minute, those are the rules and whether I like them or not, I’m going to go with them. We don’t have a phenomenal choice of players so I will go with it. If their heart is seriously not really in it I think you might be able to suss that relatively quickly.”

That is said to be precisely Davies’ attitude with the Hull City defender qualifying on the basis of an Irish-born grandmother who, he apparently said recently, always felt English. With no emotional link to the country he cannot, it seems, see the point in playing for Ireland which would appear to be a perfectly respectable position to adopt. In recent weeks, in any case, he has been talking about his hopes of winning a place in England’s World Cup squad.

Reluctant to pursue
O’Neill would surely be reluctant to pursue a case like that but he is clever enough not to box himself in at this stage. “If you’re asking me here to sit and pontificate on something,” he said, “I’m not going to do it. Growing up, would I have agreed with the rules that are set in place? No. I wouldn’t have done. Now that I’ve reached maturity, or supposed to be mature, then . . .” he concluded with silence and a shrug.