Belfast Telegraph

From broken leg woe to destroying United, Now Grigg wants Euro glory

By Steven Beacom

Will Grigg was 15 and dreaming about becoming a professional footballer with Birmingham City when he broke his leg.

The injury didn't just shatter his bones, it shattered his dreams because days later he was released by the Midlands club, having expected to be offered a new contract. The rejection hit Grigg hard.

That could, and for many others would, have been the end of his ambition.

Not the fiercely determined Grigg. He fought his way back from a long period on the sidelines, and while attending college in his native Solihull began playing non-league football with Stratford Town, scoring goals and impressing enough for Birmingham to come calling again, along with West Brom. Instead he chose Walsall, where he continued to shine leading to a £325,000 move to Brentford.

Last week, while on loan at MK Dons, the 23-year-old striker scored twice against Manchester United in a League Cup tie, inspiring the League One outfit to a famous 4-0 victory.

As the final whistle blew, Grigg could have been forgiven for thinking his comeback from a nightmare injury as a teenager was complete, but he's not finished yet.

There is much more he wants to achieve, such as helping Northern Ireland qualify for the 2016 European Championship finals.

Recalled to the squad for Sunday's opening Group F game in Hungary, Grigg, who has won five caps, is keen to play a key role for Michael O'Neill's team in the campaign. Training this week in London with the international squad, that broken leg may seem a world away, but for Grigg it's a constant reminder of how far he has come.

"When I broke my leg, that was a tough time for me," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It was just before the Scholars were going to be announced at the club and it was a bit of shock to me when I was released by Birmingham.

"That disappointment, though, made me grow up a lot quicker than some of my team-mates at the time did.

"Out of our under-16 team at Birmingham, I'm the only one playing professionally now. It definitely gave me the experience that you have to deal with knocks in your career and bounce back. Just before I joined Walsall I had the chance to go back to Birmingham or join West Brom, but I went to Walsall and it was one of the best decisions I've made in my career because things went well there and I have progressed since."

He sure has, leading to that remarkable evening against Louis van Gaal's side.

"It was the best night of my career so far. It would have been up there just to play against Manchester United, but to score two goals and win the game in the style that we did definitely made it the highlight," said Grigg.

"It was brilliant to play in front of a full house. It was the first time I have experienced the stadium like that and the atmosphere did make a difference for us."

The second of Grigg's goals came when he brilliantly chested home a cross from fellow Northern Ireland squad member Ben Reeves.

"It was a great cross in from Ben and I realised there was enough pace on the ball for me to guide it in with my chest and luckily it came off," said the forward rather modestly.

Grigg was a regular for Northern Ireland youth teams before making his senior debut in 2012 against a star-studded Holland side in Amsterdam. The visitors lost 6-0, but the new cap had the consolation of taking home shirts worn by Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart.

Born and bred in England, his connection to Northern Ireland is Fermanagh and a grandfather from Enniskillen, though he admits, despite the family connection, he's never been to the Lakeland town.

"As soon as I knew I had the chance to be involved with Northern Ireland I jumped at the opportunity," he states.

"I played quite a few games for the under-17s and under-19s and in recent years I've been in the senior squad.

"Making my debut in Holland was quite surreal. I had a game for the under-21s a few weeks before and the manager said I did really well but I didn't expect to be called up to the senior squad.

"When I got the nod to play it was incredible. Obviously the scoreline wasn't the best but it was a really proud moment for myself and something I'll never forget.

"I'm delighted to be back in the squad ahead of our Euro qualifiers. It's a big campaign for us and with third place in the group earning a play-off, it gives us a good chance.

"There is optimism and even expectation in the camp. We'll aim to start well against Hungary and make this our time and have a real go at qualifying. I want to play my part in what hopefully will be a successful campaign."

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