How Gaelic football Jack Grealish of Aston Villa prepared for big occasions prior to the Carabao Cup final
With a capacity crowd in the national stadium looking attentively, Jack Grealish stands up and shoots for goal. While the ball finds the target, teammates race towards him to celebrate.
For Grealish, his colleagues and the Aston Villa fans on their way to Wembley for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, this is the dream scenario – and one that their captain has already experienced in another sport.
As a boy, Grealish was in a Warwickshire team that played Gaelic football in Croke Park in Dublin – Ireland’s largest sports arena – during the break of the Leinster final, one of Ireland’s largest sporting events.
Jack Grealish will lead Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City
The English star has experience in the big occasions prior to the Wembley confrontation
Grealish played Gaelic football as a teenager and played in the iconic Croke Park in Dublin
Grealish scored a point during that rest period and those who coached him as a teenager believed that his success in Gaelic football laid the foundation for his development into one of England’s brightest talents.
Grealish, who is eligible to play for Ireland through his grandparents, but hopes to win a first senior call-up from England next month, represented the John Mitchels GAA club in Solihull – and his relatives are still very involved today.
“Football skills translate to GAA much more easily than rugby skills,” JP Walsh, club secretary, told Sportsmail. “Jack was athletic, he was aggressive – the way he plays football.
“He was very brave, very strong, not afraid to take responsibility. He was a big part of our youth line-up, but he had to stop because Villa wanted him.
Grealish is also eligible to play for Ireland, and did so as an under-21, but has opted for England
Coaches from his time in Gaelic football believe that it gave Grealish skills that helped him later
“My father was a big member of the club and he always said two players stood out from an early age – Jack and Dan Crowley, who now plays for Birmingham. Dan played for a team in Coventry and they stood head and shoulders above everyone.
‘Jack was excellent in soloing (the equivalent of dribbling). People still talk about a goal he scored when he rode the field. For those kids, playing in Croke Park was like a junior soccer team playing in Wembley during a grand cup final. “
Players may use their hands and feet in Gaelic football. There are 15 players in each team, with a pitch comparable to a rugby field but with larger dimensions. The ball is heavier than a normal football.
Sending the ball above the bar – a point – is worth one and sending it down – a goal – is worth three.
Grealish’s day job means he can’t follow John Mitchels as precisely as he would like, although he still donates signed shirts and mentions the club on social media.
Few seemed as bright as Grealish, as Kevin McGinnity, one of his coaches at John Mitchels, recalls.
Grealish’s courage on the pitch has shifted from Gaelic football to Premier League
Grealish has prepared himself on Sunday for a huge competition with his youth team Aston Villa
“His best moment was when a team from Ireland came by for a tournament under 13 and we demolished them,” he said. “He has also had so many punches. In another tournament we reached the semi-final – but Jack had taken so many hits that he couldn’t play.
“You usually use your best players in midfield or midfield, and Jack would start in midfield – but he would go everywhere.
‘When I look at Villa now, it is identical to how he was under 13 in our team. He was smart, fast, always thoughtful – and a nice guy who dealt with it.
“We couldn’t let him play for us every time because he was in Villa’s books, but if he could get there, he would.” It lifted everyone up to have him on the team.
Grealish is the key to Villa and makes a huge upset against the Premier League champions
‘If you give players of that age instructions in the field, it is often in one ear and in the other. Jack would always listen and understand. He could see things. “
Grealish is only 24, but Sunday’s final is the fifth Wembley appearance of his career – an FA Cup semi-final and 2015 final were followed by two championships play-offs.
And as those who saw him in Croke Park know, Villa’s talisman has always had a preference for the big occasion.