Reluctantly Irish – Do me a favour.

Why do we bend over backwards to accommodate the ‘reluctant Irish’? Time after time, every effort is afforded to coax individuals to play for the Republic when their heart quite clearly belongs to another land. It’s time we start developing the next Robbie Keane and Damien Duff rather than be preoccupied converting other nation’s also rans.

There’s something about Ireland’s pursuit of Brentford’s Scott Hogan that just doesn’t sit well with me. In fact, his hesitancy to declare for the Republic equally rankles. International football is seen as the pinnacle of achievement in the footballing world. The best of the best are always internationally recognised. There should never be any hesitancy in declaring your nationality. In this instance, you either see yourself as Irish or you don’t. We’ve had it before with Jamie O’Hara and more recently with Jack Grealish. The cringeworthy pursuit of a mediocre player at worst or a promising player at best, followed by the usual response which screams, “Let’s see what happens with England first before I commit to being Irish”. If footballing rumour is to be believed, then Harry Arter is apparently planning an international U-turn. Such a move would open up the biggest can of worms about national representation since the days of Tony Cascarino. It would make a mockery of the ‘competitive game’ rule and be following ridiculously down the same slope as athletics where we see Kenyan after Kenyan defect to the oil rich nation with the highest cash incentive.

It’s time we stop this pursuit of the ‘reluctant Irish’ and put our efforts into nurturing genuine Irish talent that would walk barefoot on glass to wear the green jersey at the Aviva. If that means making do with an average team then that’s fine by me. Let’s not kid ourselves, pursuit of these 1st and 2nd generation ‘Irish’ footballers is, and always has been, a desperate measure to paper over the cracks of our dwindling ability as a nation to produce international class footballers. Instead of investing hard trying to produce and unearth the next Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, we’re going the easy route and converting other nation’s also rans.

I’m particularly surprised at Roy Keane using the phrase, when referring to Hogan, “please God he’d like to come on board”. This for a player, who, only a few years ago was playing for Woodley Sports in the far reaches of England’s non league. If we’re at the stage where we’re praying to God for Scott Hogan then surely we’re screwed anyway and that’s no disrespect intended to Scott Hogan.

As a player, I never had the opportunity to play for Ireland at any level but had the honour of singing the national anthem once before the FAI Cup Final in 2007. It was one of the most emotional, inspiring and hair raising experiences of my career. If the national anthem of your country doesn’t do that to you then you’re playing for the wrong country. Need I remind you all that ‘Irishman’ Matt Holland once belted out the English national anthem at the  play off final. An unfathomable act in any Irish eyes.

International football is dangerously becoming an extension of club football. Players are switching allegiances, and the nationalising of individuals is becoming an all too regular practice. I would much rather watch Dundalk’s Daryl Horgan or Cork’s Seanie Maguire in an Irish shirt then some chancer using our national team as a reserve choice. How proud did it make you when watching Robbie Brady’s tears after his dream was realised at the euro’s? That’s what international football should be about. What message does it send out to those lads, like Maguire and Horgan, who are coming through the Irish system and excelling but are constantly being overlooked? Being Irish is indeed a wonderful thing, just ask James McClean, or Martin O’Neill for that matter.

Given our history and the vast Irish diaspora dotted around the world, being Irish is a special honour and privilege. Wherever Irish descendants raise children, they’re children are either brought up Irish or they’re not. In the case of Arter and Hogan, both were born in Britain with the former representing Ireland at underage level. These lads will feel Irish or they won’t. They’ll know the basics such as ‘tayto’ means crisps and that chocolate kimberley only come out at Christmas but joking aside, there should never be any hesitancy in declaring your nationality, in particular, your Irishness. You’re either a proud Irishman or you’re one of the unlucky ones whose allegiance lies with another nation.

If Arter does back track on Ireland, and I find it unimaginable that he will, then it will be perceived in the eyes of  all Irishmen and women as a despicable act of treason. If he does back track, then whose underage and senior caps has he stolen? Whose progression has he hampered or stopped altogether? If he wants to go then good riddance, and maybe we’ll be forced into promoting Stephen Gleeson whose been a regular at a resurgent Birmingham City this season, and must be brain damaged at this stage from banging his head against that international brick wall for so long. 

As a footballing country we owe it to ourselves to develop and promote our own but unfortunately, like other international teams, it seems the pursuit of instant results overrules any hope of promoting our own and building a homegrown, or home based legacy for the next generation. The beauty of Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Paul McGrath, Liam Brady and I could go on, was that they were unmistakeably Irish. They captured the imagination. They inspired a generation. That’s what we should be striving for and that’s where our priorities should lie.

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6 Responses to Reluctantly Irish – Do me a favour.

  1. Geoff says:

    Always a good read. We miss you at the madhouse that is now Leyton Orient.

  2. Mick Bennett says:

    Leon. Remember with fondness your time at “the O’s” – couldn’t (& still can’t) understand why they let you go. Anyways – always enjoy the blog for it’s interesting and thought-provoking “take” on our beautiful game. Keep it up, mate.

  3. Ben says:

    Quality read Leon, fantastic to get opinions on someone that lived the game rather than watched it. Really enjoy your blogs.

    From yet another O who is left with a bald spot where I’ve been scratching my head trying to work out what’s going on

  4. Paul O'Gorman says:

    That’s an interesting piece. Thanks for taking the time to publish it.

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