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England’s players with strong Irish roots


England begin their 2022 World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday and are one of the favorites to win the competition, but a large number of their squad could have played for Ireland. 

Declan Rice, Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips Harry Maguire, and Harry Kane all boast significant ties to Ireland, with Rice and Grealish both representing Ireland earlier in their careers. 

All five players will likely play a part in England’s upcoming World Cup campaign in Qatar. 

Declan Rice is a certain starter in midfield for the Three Lions, while captain Harry Kane, who is England’s chief goal threat, is also guaranteed to start up front. 

Kalvin Phillips, who started alongside Rice in midfield at last summer’s Euro 2020 championships, has hardly featured for new club Manchester City this season but has proved his importance to manager Gareth Southgate and could feature in the heart of the England midfield once again.

Similarly, Harry Maguire has hardly featured for Manchester United after a difficult start to the season, but the England center-back has been pivotal for Southgate during England’s run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018 and their more recent run to the Euro 2020 final last summer. 

Jack Grealish has been in and out of form for Manchester City this season and the winger may find himself behind Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka in the pecking order. However, he was a fan favorite during England’s Euro 2020 campaign and helped change the game when England were toiling against Germany in the Euro 2020 round-of-16. 

All five players will likely play an important role if England are to end 56 years without an international trophy at this year’s World Cup.

But are the Irish roots of Kane, Maguire Rice, and Grealish enough to justify Irish fans doing the unthinkable and cheering England on in the World Cup? Take a look at each player’s Irish connection and decide for yourself! 

Declan Rice

West Ham’s Declan Rice very controversially switched allegiances to England in 2019 after making three appearances for the senior Ireland team a year previously. 

FIFA allowed Rice to make the switch as he had not played in a competitive international, allowing Rice to represent his country of birth. 

Rice qualified to play for Ireland through his Irish grandparents and reportedly grew up in a very Irish household. 

The nature of Rice’s move to England left a sour taste for many Irish soccer fans and former players, who believed that the talented youngster was a shining light in Ireland’s youth set-up. 

Rice, meanwhile, had belted out Amhrán na bhFiann ahead of his Ireland debut against Turkey in March 2018 and said that was “no decision” to be made when questioned about his international future and reported interest from England. 

However, Rice would later reject a call-up from then-Ireland manager Martin O’Neill for a competitive game against Wales in September 2018 that would have secured his international future with Ireland. 

Instead, Rice took several months to think about his international career before eventually opting to represent England in early 2019. He later said his mind was made up when he watched England’s run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. 

Former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, who was born in Preston but chose to play for Ireland, condemned Rice for the decision and for “taking three caps” away from young footballers who would have been proud to represent Ireland. 

Kilbane described Rice’s move as a “slap in the face” to other Irish players. 

Rice has since gone on to become an important part of England manager Gareth Southgate’s plans and started each of England’s six games at Euro 2020. 

Jack Grealish

Before the Declan Rice saga, there was Jack Grealish. 

Like Declan Rice, Jack Grealish was heralded as Irish soccer’s next big thing. 

Grealish impressed for Ireland at underage level, winning the under-21 player of the year award in 2015 but switched allegiances to England later in the year. 

There was some hope that Grealish would choose Ireland over England given that he had played Gaelic football for John Mitchel’s Hurling and Camogie Club in Warwickshire until he was 14. He had also rejected several approaches from England in the past. 

However, speaking ahead of the Euro 2020 championships, Grealish said he made the switch because he felt English. 

“Obviously, I am English, my parents are born in England… I was obviously born in England, so I feel English. I changed to England and since then I’ve never looked back,” Grealish said ahead of this summer’s championships. 

He said he “loved every moment” that he spent with Ireland’s underage teams and his loss has been felt by an Irish team that boasts a severe lack of star quality. 

Grealish’s move to England wasn’t nearly as controversial as Declan Rice’s because he never represented the senior Irish team, but it still caused indignation amongst Irish supporters, especially since it pre-dated Rice’s decision. 

Grealish, like Rice, qualified to play for Ireland through his Irish grandparents. 

Harry Kane

Unlike Rice and Grealish, England captain and talisman Harry Kane has never represented Ireland at any level, but he actually boasts the strongest connection to the emerald isle of the three players. 

Kane’s father Patrick was born in Connemara, County Galway, before Kane’s grandparents emigrated to London. 

Kane and his brother Charlie had a distinctly Irish upbringing in London and reportedly holidayed in the west of Ireland on several occasions as children.

However, the Tottenham Hotspur captain was overlooked by Irish scouts during his youth career, despite reported interest from Kane to represent Ireland. 

By the time Kane piqued Irish scouts’ interest after breaking into the Tottenham first team, it was too late. 

Ireland would consequently miss out on a player who became one of the best strikers in the world, scoring 261 goals in 408 games for Tottenham and 51 goals in 75 appearances for England. 

Kane would bolster any squad in the world, but his absence was particularly felt by Ireland, who have struggled to replace record goalscorer Robbie Keane since his retirement in 2016. 

Kane can become England’s all-time top goalscorer if he scores at least two goals at the World Cup. 

Harry Maguire 

Manchester United center-back Harry Maguire qualifies for both Ireland and Northern Ireland through his grandparents but has never been linked with playing for the Boys in Green. 

Maguire was one of the best defenders at Euro 2020 and scored England’s second goal in their 4-0 win over Ukraine in the quarter-finals. 

Kalvin Phillips

Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips is of Irish descent on his mother’s side and could have also played for the Boys in Green. 

A midfielder, Phillips started every game at Euro 2020 alongside Declan Rice and has been a lynchpin in England’s midfield in recent years. 

Phillips also qualifies to play for Jamaica through his father. 

Are the Irish roots of Kane, Phillips, Maguire, Grealish, and Rice reason enough for Irish fans to forget about rivalry and cheer on England at the World Cup? Or is Rice and Grealish’s defection even more of a reason to cheer on England’s opponents? Let us know in the comments! 

*Originally published in July 2021. Updated in November 2022. 





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