ROY Keane has urged people not to pile the pressure on a new generation of potential Republic of Ireland midfield stars.
Everton’s Scots-born James McCarthy could win his 26th senior international cap at the age of 24 against England tomorrow, while Republic manager Martin O’Neill and assistant Keane are keeping their fingers crossed that Aston Villa’s teenage prodigy Jack Grealish eventually opts to represent the country of his heritage rather than that of his birth. However, Keane, who admits it took him up to 25 games to establish himself on the big stage, insists both men need to be given time to do what they have to do.
McCarthy turned in the kind of commanding display which has sometimes eluded him at international level in the second half of the 1-1 Euro 2016 qualifier draw with Poland in March, but Keane knows he cannot be rushed.
He said: “James is still finding his feet at international level – I have said it before – and there is nothing wrong with that. I felt it took me 20, 25 international games really to get a feel for the group, the players I was working with, and I think James might be the same. Sometimes, you can be a slow burner.
“But like all players – and he’s young at international level – he is learning his trade. But the signs were very good in the second half [against Poland].
“James is playing regularly for Everton and we are delighted. James has got a chance of being a really good player. But you have got to give the boy a little bit of breathing space.
“Sometimes there are expectations on certain players. Other players can be under the radar and seem to get away with it, but there are certain players fans and the media pick up on and seem to put too much pressure on.
“Give James a bit of a breather. He’s still a young lad and from my own experience – and that’s what I can talk from – I was playing for Ireland probably 20, 25 games before I really felt ‘I can start running the show now’.”
McCarthy seems certain to start the qualifier against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium a week today having established himself at the heart of O’Neill’s midfield.
However, 19-year-old Grealish remains tantalisingly out of his grasp after rejecting the opportunity to meet up with the squad this month. The Birmingham-born player, who also qualifies for England, had previously indicated that he would make himself available for Ireland’s Under-21s again next season after representing the Republic at under-age levels, but has taken a year out of international football to concentrate on matters at Villa Park.
Speculation has been rife over which way he will eventually jump after a strong finish to the season, in which he started in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on 30 May, but Keane, who worked with the player during his time as number two to former manager Paul Lambert, is philosophical about the situation.
He said: “I was lucky enough to work with him at close quarters at Villa, and he’s a talented kid. But as usual, the media interest – not just the Irish, but in England – they like to build these kids up before they have done too much in the game, and Jack has a lot to do yet.
“But he’s got potential, and we’ll see over the next few months and years how he progresses. It would be great if it was with us; if not, then we’ll just get on with it. It’s pretty straightforward.
“From my experience working with him, Jack is a really good kid, an absolutely good kid, but he has still got a lot to do in the game. He has obviously got a big decision to make, and I think whatever decision he makes will be the right one, and you would wish him well.
“From Jack’s point of view, if he came and played for Ireland, I think he would love it. I think he would enjoy the players. He obviously enjoyed it at under-age level.
“I enjoyed working with him at Villa. He’s a really nice kid. People have been too hard on him lately, and if he comes and plays for us, brilliant. But if he goes and plays for England, then you have got to respect the decision. Whether you like it or not is irrelevant. You have got to accept it.”