By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
England forward Jack Grealish insists he has “never looked back” after deciding to change his international allegiance from Ireland.
The Birmingham-born 25-year-old had been capped six times at under-21 level for the Republic of Ireland before opting to represent the Three Lions in 2015.
The decision caused a backlash against Grealish and the wisdom of the call could have been questioned given he had to wait five years to make his senior England debut.
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) June 6, 2021
But the Aston Villa captain would ultimately be vindicated when he was called up by Gareth Southgate for the Nations League double-header against Iceland and Denmark last September.
He would make his bow against the latter and has since gone on to win seven caps and be selected in Southgate’s squad for the European Championship.
Asked if he felt turning down a senior Republic of Ireland call-up was worth it, Grealish replied: “As I got older, I started playing obviously at Villa, in the first-team, I broke through.
I obviously changed to England and since then I never looked back. I've enjoyed every moment that I've had here. And I wouldn't be here today if I didn't
“And there was a time when I thought: ‘obviously I am English, my parents were born in England, I was obviously born in England, so I feel English’.
“So yes, I obviously changed to England and since then I never looked back. I’ve enjoyed every moment that I’ve had here. And I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t.”
Grealish also recounted a story of how and why he had initially chosen to play for the Republic of Ireland – having qualified through his grandparents.
“When I was young, I got asked to play for England and Ireland at a tournament,” he said.
“I got asked to play for both, I went away to play for England, I was in my room and I collapsed, the day before we were meant to be training and I got sent home.
“I was just in the bathroom and I woke up on the floor. I don’t actually know what happened, I don’t know if it was nerves or whatever, I’m not actually too sure, but the next day I was obviously fine, ready to go and train, but obviously for medical reasons I couldn’t.
“Then during that time I went to Ireland to trial there and I played and I just loved it. That’s one thing that I’ve always said, when you’re younger you just do what makes you happy. And I loved every moment that I had there. I was just a young kid enjoying my football.”
Grealish, who started both Euro 2020 warm-up wins last week, is one of 11 players in Southgate’s 26-man squad with less than 10 caps.
But he believes the mixture of young talent and those who experienced the heartache of being knocked out of the 2018 World Cup at the semi-final stage could be a perfect mix.
“I think it could definitely help, because I think we still have the experience there,” he said of the youthful nature of the squad.
“There’s so much experience in the side at the moment that was in Russia in 2018. (John) Stones, Harry Maguire, Hendo (Jordan Henderson), Harry (Kane) up top, Raheem (Sterling).
“So you still have all that experience. Then you have a blend of youngsters coming through with Jude Bellingham, Bukayo (Saka).
“I think we have a young squad actually, I think I read someone say that we’re one of the youngest in the tournament if not the youngest and I think that can help us. We have a bit of both so fingers crossed it does.”
An absolute honour to make the squad for the Euros this summer. I’ve always dreamt about playing in a major tournament for my country! Let’s make it a summer to remember 🏴🦁 #ThreeLions pic.twitter.com/rEgOBMdfpi
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) June 1, 2021
Croatia were the side to end England’s hopes three years ago and they will be the opposition for the opening game of Group D at Wembley on Sunday – a game which could see Grealish keep his place in Southgate’s side.
“I don’t really think it is a question of doing enough,” he replied when asked if his eye-catching performances in the warm-up games will see him play against Croatia.
“You only really have to look at the players in my position, most of them have just come back from playing in the Champions League and Europa League final, whereas I’ve been injured for a while.
“The competition is there, but I think it is nice competition to have. I don’t think it is a matter of have I done enough to start, I’ll be ready when called upon.”