The debate involving players representing Ireland who were not born on the Emerald Isle has raised its head again and again over the last number of months. The abuse that Aidan McGeady and James McCarthy, both born in Scotland, received around Ireland’s 2016 European Championship qualifier in Glasgow last November and the recent saga involving Birmingham born Jack Grealish has highlighted the complications involved in having a team that is partly drawn from the diaspora.
The much maligned ‘Granny Rule’ (Fifa Statute Article 17: Acquisition of a new nationality) states that:
Any Player who … [assumes] a new nationality and who has not played international football [in a match … in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one Association] shall be eligible to play for the new representative team only if he fulfills one of the following conditions:
(a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(d) He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.
Jack Charlton certainly had a knack for making the most of this rule, littering (if that is not a bad use of words in the context) the national team with players predominately born in England. Some of our more notable victories over the years have had just a small number of players born in Ireland. For example the USA ’94 World cup victory over Italy in Giants Stadium had Ireland starting with only four players born in Ireland (Bonner, Irwin, Staunton and Keane). There is no doubt that the inclusion of players who benefitted from the ‘Granny Rule’ during the late 80’s and 90’s provided us with a lot more success than we would have had without them. Without the likes of McGrath, O’Leary, Aldridge and Houghton the success of the Boys in Green would have been seriously impacted on any team during that period.
The challenge for some Irish fans is at what point are these players fully embraced as Irish players. There was never any doubt about the commitment to the cause for the aforementioned players and the same can be said for the likes of more recent players like the Preston born Kevin Kilbane who turned out 110 times for the national side. However, there is no small amount of annoyance when a player is in the process of making a decision on who they will represent at international level. It rarely sits comfortably with Irish fans when players hesitates or is seen to hesitate on the decision to pull on the green jersey. Some players take the cautious approach of not commenting on the matter until they have made their decision, or the decision has been made for them. On the other hand, some players trip themselves up by trying to please everyone and publicly keeping their options open.
Jamie O’Hara is a prime example as he made it known about his large Irish family and that if he got a phone call for the Irish team it would be something that he would seriously look at. Months later the same Jamie O’Hara stated that it was his aim since he was a kid play for England. Similarly having not received a call up for England’s national team, West Ham’s midfielder Mark Noble also recently commented on the possibility of representing Ireland. While he did admit that it would be strange to play for Ireland he committed to making a decision within a couple of weeks, a decision that has yet to materialise. One wonders whether his statement was just a rouse to wrestle the England camp into action and call him into the squad to prevent a ship jumping manoeuvre to Ireland.
English born Harry Arter recently commented on the decision that faces Jack Grealish stating that if he wants to play for England then there is no point him picking Ireland just because he feels he has to. Irish’s fans can accept the young man’s logic but it is the non-decision that leaves fans frustrated and unsure of the commitment of the player. Another factor that should be considered is that player’s agents will be looking to maximise the marketing potential of their young starlets and this may have a strong influence on the final decision. What will add more to a young Premier League players value, a semi-regular place on a international team ranked 62nd in the world or the opportunity to add ‘England International’ to their player’s C.V?
The truth of the matter is that we will never know what makes a player choose Ireland over the country of his birth. At the very least however we should expect that once that decision is made that the player gives 100%. There is no doubt that the ‘Granny Rule’ will continue to bear fruit and bolster our squad and while it might sometimes be a dagger through the heart of the purists it is something that we would be much poorer without.
- Author: Michael McCormack