Southgate admits interest in Ireland U21 star Grealish

Aston Villa starlet withdrawn from friendly away to Norway to play first-team match

Aston Villa’s  Jack Grealish in action against  Manchester City’s Frank Lampard  during last weekend’s  Premier League match at Villa Park.  Photograpgh: Nick Potts/PA

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in action against Manchester City’s Frank Lampard during last weekend’s Premier League match at Villa Park. Photograpgh: Nick Potts/PA

 

Aston Villa starlet Jack Grealish has been withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland’s under-21 squad for Thursday’s friendly international away to Norway as the battle for who he plays his senior international football for rages on.

On the day that England under-21 coach Gareth Southgate admitted his interest in the player, Ireland boss Noel King said he understood the reasons behind Grealish’s absence.

The 19-year-old Birmingham-born player is staying at Bodymoor Heath for training and will be participating in an Aston Villa first-team match behind closed doors. He is also in contract negotiations.

King does not feel Grealish’s withdrawal will have any bearing on whether he commits to Ireland or not.

“I accept Jack’s reasons for withdrawing and understand it. I have no issue with it and just see this as an opportunity for other players to come in and show what they can do,” said King.

Southgate, who is preparing England for Friday’s Euro 2015 play-off with Croatia at Molineux, confirmed that England under-21 officials have been in contact with Grealish and his family.

“The family and Jack are aware of our interest,” said Southgate. “Jack is somebody we have spoken to over the years, him and his family. He has been in our younger development teams.

“Up to this point they have preferred to remain with Ireland. These things are quite fluid at younger ages, it happened with Michael Keane and his brother (Will) and Jonathan Bond came from Wales.

“Lots of other home nations are running development camps at a young age so players develop an allegiance quite young.

“You are allowed to switch once when you are a young player and Jack is someone we are monitoring and we’ll keep our eye on that situation.”

Roy Keane is assistant manager at Villa Park and Martin O’Neill made a personal check on Grealish in Villa’s development squad’s 3-0 win over Bolton last week.

Grealish qualifies for Ireland through his grandparents.

Southgate will not put any pressure on the Villa academy graduate, though, insisting it is up to him to decide his future.

He said: “I haven’t spoken to him personally but certainly people from our organisation have kept in contact. We have been monitoring him but in the end it’s up to the player.

“He’s going to make his decision on where he wants to go. More and more, because of the nature of society, there are several players in our system who are dual nationality and had that choice to make.”

Grealish was one of four players withdrawn for the Norway friendly by their clubs along with Bradley Garmston, Conor Wilkinson and Will Hayhurst.

King has called up Fulham defender Sean Kavanagh, Dundee striker Philip Roberts, Shelbourne winger Dylan Connolly and Kenny McEvoy, who is on-loan at Peterborough United from Tottenham.

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