ENGLAND star Jack Grealish is ready for his moment.
The Aston Villa midfielder is expected to light up the Euros this summer – with many pundits predicting him to explode on the international stage like Paul Gascoigne did at Italia ’90.
Be sure, as a potential talisman for his country, he will be a target for opposition hatchet men.
However, that shouldn’t be a problem for the 25-year-old who is used to getting a buffeting in the Premier League.
After joining boyhood club Villa aged six, the playmaker toughened up by playing Gaelic football on the side – something his father says has helped him in anticipating tackles.
Grealish has also followed in the footsteps of his great-great grandfather by representing the Three Lions and becoming a Villa icon.
HANDY WITH HIS HANDS TOO
Grealish was born in 1995 and raised in Solihull by parents Kevin and Karen, who have Irish roots.
A die-hard fan, it was always his dream to represent the club he loved as a kid. But in the summers, when the football season had winded down, he just loved playing Gaelic football.
There aren’t many footballers who have scored a point at Croke Park playing Gaelic football and won the Toulon Tournament.
He lined out for the John Mitchels Hurling and Camogie club in the Midlands, where he excelled.
In 2009, Grealish scored a point representing Warwickshire GAA at Croke Park during half-time of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Dublin and Kerry.
In the past, dad Kevin spoke about how Gaelic football prepared him for the rough treatment he gets week in/week out in the Premier League.
“He’d run the show playing Gaelic. It really helped him because he was knocked from pillar to post. It’s brutal compared to soccer,” he told BirminghamLive.
“Jack, as you know, is good with his feet but you can pick the ball up as well and he’d flick it around everyone!
“I told Gordan Cowans (Aston Villa coach) that once. He asked why Jack was so good at expecting tackles and stuff and it was the GAA.
“It really built up his upper body, players would bounce off him. It’s probably why he’s so strong today.”
Jack, himself, has spoken fondly about his Gaelic football past.
“I wasn’t really into other sports growing up but I loved Gaelic,” he revealed.
“You can play football in it; you don’t just have to have the ball in your hands, you can just run with the ball.
“But when I was 13, Villa told me I need to stop because it’s rough. I still played now and then until I was 15.”
LUCK OF THE IRISH
It’s easy to forget Grealish was a late bloomer in international football – and didn’t make his full England debut until two days before he turned 25.
And he could quite easily have been sat at home watching the Euros in his plush Barnt Green, Worcestershire home had he not snubbed Republic of Ireland at the eleventh hour in 2015.
Capped by Ireland at U17, U18 and U21 level, he seemed destined to play under Martin O’Neill.
However, O’Neill revealed that Grealish turned down an invitation for a call-up , which alerted then-England U21 coach Gareth Southgate to the possibility he would switch allegiances.
In September 2015, he confirmed that he would represent England, and at the Toulon Tournament he made his debut.
Grealish would be instrumental in helping his country win the competition.
FOOTBALL RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Every time Grealish puts on an England shirt, he’s bound to think about his great-great-grandfather from his mother Karen’s side of the family, Billy Garraty.
Between 1898 and 1908, forward Garraty scored 112 goals in 260 appearances for Vila.
In 1903, he also won an England cap in an appearance against Wales.
Although Jack has already bettered Garraty’s Three Lions appearance record, he’s still got some way to go to match his medal’s count
Garraty was a 1905 FA Cup hero for the club – winning man of the match in a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United in the final.
Five years prior, he helped the club win the league scoring 27 goals in 33 games.
Off the pitch, the classy midfielder, who made his debut aged 18 for Villa in 2014, is generous with his time and money.
Grealish is renowned for his charity work in and around the Birmingham community.
Last summer, he raffled off a worn football shirt to raise funds for the NHS – reportedly raising over £55,000.
Jack was also said to have personally donated £150,000 to a local hospital during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
And when a Twitter follower contacted him to tell him about the death of his best friend who committed suicide after a battle with mental health, Grealish kindly auctioned off a shirt signed by the Villa promotion-winning squad.
Money raised was donated straight to a mental health charity.
Grealish has also been advocate for Saving Lives and Children in Need in the past.
Should any defences feel charitable at the Euros, expect Jack to reap the benefits.