Ireland is a small country both in population and in density, at 84,421 kilometres in size, you could fit Ireland into Russia 202 times.
However, that doesn’t tell the full story, for Ireland is very much intertwined with and defined by emigration as early as the Middle Ages, from around the 1700’s between 9-10 million people born in Ireland have emigrated. The reasons for said emigration are wide and varied from casualties of colonisation, famines, wars and economic downturns.
It’s no surprise the “Irish” have long sought to leave in search of a better life and a more prosperous life. Our “small” nation has a long and complex history which is an article for a different type of article! But context is critical, especially for this article and it’s why the term “Irish diaspora” has been continually used in recent decades as up to 70 million people across the globe claim Irish ethnicity on some level!
Given (no not Shay), what I’ve said above it’s no surprise that “Granny Rulers” representing Ireland in Football has become synonymous with our National team. For those not familiar with what a “Granny Ruler” is, it’s our uniquely Irish way of describing a player who is eligible to represent our country in football having not been born in our country originally ….
There’s a variety of nuances and intricacies at play but to put it short you’re eligible if you fill one or more of the below criteria.
(1) You’re an Irish Citizen
(2) Your parent is an Irish Citizen (born on the island)
(3) One or more of your grandparents is an Irish Citizen (born on the island)
Use of the rule was popularised and arguably perfected by inarguably Ireland’s “Greatest” ever manager Jack Charlton who from 1986 to 1996 used this strategy to aggressively pursue eligible footballers in search of building the strongest Irish side he possibly could and he did so to great effect leading us to our nation’s most successful period ever.
Followers of my own socials (Irish Football Blog) know that I’m a huge advocate for the Irish diaspora whether that be tracking down the next eligible footballers (and passing their details onto the FAI) or making jokes about Rice and Grealish (more on them shortly) to “offend” the Irish, it’s fair to say the granny rule brings me a lot of enjoyment!
Due to the Rice and Grealish “debacles” I’ve found there to be a newfound pushback about “non-Irish-born talent” representing Ireland. Plenty of people on Social Media have argued with me saying “Why can’t we focus on developing genuine Irish talent and not foreigners.” For the record, I’m constantly beating the drum about further investment into our domestic game.
But as the boys at Lansdowne Roar once said, “Why is it either or and not both, it’s an elite sport.” They’re correct, both have their place if we want to achieve great things and it can be done, look at Morocco who recently reached a World Cup Semi-Final.
For argument’s sake, I believe there are two ways for a country to succeed and develop players in any given sport.
- You’ve a sporting culture that is so strong that it precedes everything about a country that you can bypass an absence of facilities like football in Brazil and to a lesser extent, Rugby in New Zealand (in terms of culture not facilities).
- Or the scenario you have in the UK (along with population effects) such a consistent level of coaching, academy structures and facilities are present that you’re bound to develop world-class footballers.
The reality is that someone born in Ireland is not inherently worse than someone born in the UK, the differences are found in the education and facilities present across both jurisdictions.
To move forward it’s probably time that I address the “elephants in the room” Jack Grealish and Declan Rice and establish the facts. The former qualified despite being Birmingham born qualifying for Ireland through seventy five percent of his grandparents and as a child influenced by his Irish heritage even played GAA. He would go on to represent Ireland from U17-U21 level 19 times in total scoring 6 goals from 2011-2014 and back in 2011 he even rejected the advances of England.
But as interest intensified he declined call-ups in 2013 at both U21 and Senior Level and despite winning U21 POTY in March 2015 and reaffirming his desire to represent Ireland, it wasn’t to be and by September 2015 the prospect of playing for England proved too difficult to turn down and he switched to his nation of birth.. I’ll admit it burned at the time, but we move on…
Declan Rice is another interesting story; born in London he qualified through his grandparents from Cork he represented Ireland from U17-U21 level 16 times scoring 2 goals (eerily similar to Grealish) from 2015-2018 and winning U17 POTY in 2015. However, Rice, unlike Grealish, accepted the senior call-up saying, “It’s a dream come true”
When he first got the call and would go on to play for the Senior side 3 times… How did we possibly mess this one up? Well, the “story” or how we were told goes like this…Rice days after his EPL debut was called up to the senior squad for friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay. Rice made his senior debut on 23 March 2018 in a 1–0 defeat to Turkey.
Martin would later argue following the aftermath of Rice switching, that Rice knew the story and would’ve refused to play a competitive game before any interest from the English FA. Something I’d very much dispute no matter what either man would come out and say about the situation.
But if we’re to accept the manager’s version of the “facts” then I’d very much question the reasoning behind deliberately picking a footballer you know won’t play if needed. The cycle began between August and November 2018 with Rice “omitted” from several squads with O’Neill saying Rice was still deciding over his international future.
Following his departure, Mick McCarthy and Robbie Keane tried to sell a dream to Declan about him captaining Ireland and building a team around him but it was to no avail in February 2019 he pledged his future to England and by March he had made his debut. That burned in my mind for even longer…
As a proud Irishman, I certainly didn’t like the decision that both players eventually came to, but as we look deeper into the depths of dual nationality later on in this article “I’ll defend to the death their right to make that decision.”
Furthermore, as time passes by and we learn about how the management team and the time continually mismanaged and fell out with players, making situations and manufacturing drama out of nothing “Cough Obafemi”, I’ve come to blame management for what happened, the Rice debacle at a minimum and maybe even Grealish.
Don’t get me wrong, for years I went through the phase of having obsessive and vitriolic hatred of both footballers, but it’s something I have grown out of (something that cannot be said for a lot of others). People would have you believe that Grealish and Rice did something unique/unprecedented/unacceptable use whatever superlative you like.
This could not be further from the truth; players have switched back and forth for decades now and quite frankly none of them receive any abuse because ironically enough the fans dubbed “the greatest in the world” don’t even know these footballers exist.
We only care about Grealish and Rice so obsessively because we see them as a loss to Ireland for no other reason. Here is a non-exhaustive list of examples for your pleasure past and present.
Andy Lonergan Ireland U16 – England U20
Alex Bruce Ireland U21, Senior- Northern Ireland
Ayman Ben Mohamed (Irish mother) – Tunisia
Michael Keane Ireland U17-U19- England U19 to Senior
Patrick Bamford Ireland U18 – England U18 to Senior
Marcus McGuane Ireland U17- England U17-U19
Dan Crowley Ireland U16-U17- England U19
Jamie Bosio was Born in Dublin – Gibraltar
Shane O’Neill Born in Cork – USA U20-U23
Lynden Gooch Ireland U18 – USA
Jordan Graham Ireland U15 – England U16, U17
Louie Barry Ireland U15+U16 – England U16-U18
Keiran Murtagh Ireland U17- Antigua and Barbuda
Neil Kilkenny Ireland U19- England U20, Australia U23 and Australia
Roberto Lopes (Irish-born) – Cape Verde
Will Hondermack Ireland U21 – DR Congo
Josh Clarke Ireland U18 – Northern Ireland U19
Declan Rice Ireland U17-Senior – England
Jack Grealish Ireland U17-U21 – England
Michael Golding Ireland U16 – England U18
Charlie McCann Ireland U17-U18 – Northern Ireland U21
Had I put a gun to your head before reading this article, how many of those situations could you genuinely have made? The point is that Ireland is a country enriched by multiculturalism both at home and among the diaspora abroad.
Just because we’ve been “burned” in the past by debacles like Declan Rice, Jack Grealish and even Michael Keane. That doesn’t mean we should be looking down on Granny Rule prospects now. Due to immigration into the country in recent decades there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when those born in Ireland increasingly decide to represent another country from their heritage and that MUST be respected too.
You look at some of the great Irish teams and players in the past both now and previously and the amount of “English Born” Irish is substantial. Like it or not we mightn’t have even been the 1st choice for some “originally” we will never know.
But nationality is complex. Callum Robinson represented England U16-U20 level but now proudly wears green, Joe Hodge played for England at U16+U17 but has since turned them down and captains Ireland U21s so and so forth .
I think it’s encapsulated best by Irish Legend Kevin Kilbane born in Preston England he has famously said “’ would rather have had one cap for Ireland than 100 with England” he turned England down at underage level and famously claimed too that there have been English capped footballers who have privately admitted to him that they would’ve rather represent Ireland!
The saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” seems to be a particularly apt analogy for the Irish “Dual Nationality Dilemma.” The latest “Dilemma” to draw its head in the national team picture is the “Cannon Conundrum” currently at play. Tom Cannon was born in Aintree England, qualifying through his Irish grandparents has represented Ireland since 2019 at the U19, U20 and U21 levels playing 5 times and scoring 2 goals.
Following some brilliant Championship form, whispers of England’s interest proved true and Stephen Kenny confirmed on the 11th of June that he would be taking time to ‘reflect’ on his international future after an approach from England to play with their under 21 side. Around the same time, Cannon archived a picture of him in an Ireland jersey on Instagram (that’s even if he controls it).
On Irish Football Blog socials I pleaded with people not to abuse Cannon online, because that could impact his decision to represent Ireland. People had seemingly already made their minds up on Cannon without him uttering a word publicly on the situation and where his headspace was.
Do you think that wouldn’t put anyone’s nose out of joint? Because it would certainly annoy me. For even typing that, I got immediate pushback akin to the tune of “Why would Cannon care, you’re delusional.” I’ll tell you what though, these last two years or so, I’ve been extremely fortunate to form relationships with both family members and friends of the players, along with some of the players themselves.
If you think their inner circles don’t see every single abusive or sarcastic comment, I can assure you they do, and it has more of an effect than you’d expect. Do with that information whatever you like. My perspective is if Cannon chooses Ireland, a brilliant welcome aboard and if he chooses England it’ll give someone else a chance to achieve a dream with Ireland.
Recently I read an article by Mark McCadden in the Irish Daily Mirror addressing the “granny rule” and it makes a very valid point about how the “granny rule” is now very much a two-way street, with FAs across Europe looking at Irish-born players something which I alluded to earlier in this article and being honest it formed part of the inspiration for me putting this piece together.
One comment I received online before I got my back up, stated the following.
“ROI shouldn’t select English-born players for youth teams. Youth teams should be for developing homegrown talent and does not give a shop window to players that aren’t good enough for English youth teams. If a 25-year-old, like Houghton wants to play for Ireland they should consider them”
This is quite frankly a dangerously absurd comment and something very disrespectful to the Irish diaspora both born at home or beyond the importance which I outlined at the beginning of this article. But for argument’s sake, I was born in Ireland to Irish-born parents and all four of my grandparents came from Ireland.
That doesn’t put me above our “granny rulers” not for a split second, it does mean though that I have no idea what it feels like to be born in the UK or elsewhere to Irish parents, I’ve no idea what it feels like to be born in Ireland to African parents and I’ve no clue what it’s like to be born somewhere and move to Ireland at a very young age.
Furthermore, no person is the same and just because one person might feel one way doesn’t mean someone else might feel differently. One can have genuine ties to multiple countries and it’s not for me nor anyone else to condescendingly comment about what’s going on in people’s hearts or minds, just because we’re a little bitter about Rice and Grealish.
(Back to Mark’s article), the thing which stood out to me most from reading it was the importance of early integration into underage national squads of prospective “granny rulers” and what it meant to both the players and the families.
Altin Ferizji (originally from Albania) spoke about his sons Justin (Ireland U15-U19), and Richard (Ireland U15) representing Ireland he alludes to the importance of both his sons being settled, happy and playing with their friends for Ireland! The article also referenced Rocco Vata who despite his father being a former Albanian International qualifies through his Irish grandmother on his mother’s side.
When speaking about Rocco representing Ireland he mentions that the Irish association were the first to get into contact, when speaking about Albania he said. “They didn’t show any kind of respect, desire, or professionalism, and if they don’t do that, he will never touch a ball for Albania.
In comparison when talking about Ireland he says, “Anything can happen in the future but in the beginning, it is Ireland who have been in touch and shown interest and respect.” Those two examples drive it home for me about the importance of respecting dual nationality prospects.
On the other side of the Dual Nationality Dilemma” you have Liam Delap currently playing with Hull on loan from Man City. His father (Rory) represented Ireland at U21 and Senior Level but until now Liam has played for England U16-U21 level inclusive. In an interview a decade ago with the Irish Post, his father Rory spoke warmly about his connection with Ireland. “But you hope the importance of being Irish resonates with them. It meant everything to me growing up.
When speaking about his children potentially playing with Ireland he said “Their granddad has drilled it into them that if they’re any good at anything, it’s Ireland they have to represent. When he said it, they took it all in. So that’s one issue done and dusted then. “Liam currently represents England, and few would begrudge him representing his nation of birth and where his mother is from, but who knows what’ll happen in the future with him.
The Delap story and others like it do make me think about the importance of our association pursuing policies of making these “granny rulers” feel valued and equal like any of the players in the squad. For years we’ve seen countries like Wales and Northern Ireland pursue aggressive policies of naturalisation often capping footballers at extremely early stages at senior level to “tie down” a player.
While I understand why associations at the elite level do this, it is that idea that makes me uneasy and cynical and is at odds with how I’d like the FAI to conduct themselves i.e. with decency and respect at the core of “recruitment.” For example, whether it be consciously or subconsciously I do believe there’s a bias towards “Irish-born talent” or “home-based talent”, especially in underage squads in terms of squad selection.
While I refuse to scapegoat names for inclusion, I do believe there are plenty of names who haven’t yet received the call-up their talents deserve.
- Tyler Goodrham (20) – Oxford United
- Jacob Devaney (16) – Man Utd U18
- Callum Kavanagh (20) –Middlesbrough
Those are three examples, but there are plenty more where that came from that I believe had they been born in Ireland they’d have received more recognition; I can’t prove this but it’s something I believe to be true.
However, I think Mark’s article drove home the importance of making players feel like they belonged, and wanting and fostering friendships at the early stages and pride in the jersey, it’s all crucial to National Stage success. That idea of cultivating more pride in our National Team is something I’m truly passionate about from the footballers themselves, but also the fans.
One thing I’d like to see introduced is a “National Team Curriculum” embedded into our sides from Underage to Senior. This curriculum could entail teaching our national anthem to the underage sides, bringing them the historical sites and anything to that effect! I genuinely believe that a system like that could help mitigate“Dual Nationality Dilemmas” that have occurred throughout the years and the same could be said for future ones.
Stephen Kenny is no longer Senior Manager but one moment from his tenure still has massive relevance to Irish Football going forward. That moment came before their game against England and in a futile attempt to hype up the players before the game Kenny showed the squad a “motivational video” that allegedly included references to the 1916 Rising. In this “PC” World that’s apparently a crime. The fallout from that “event” was quite simply embarrassing, a media-driven nonsense of drivel and “investigations” all this for a man just wanting his players to be proud and aware of their heritage. If that’s the party line these days, I have no clue what our association should do moving forward when recruiting in this “Dual Nationality Dilemma.”