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Broadcaster and politican in on-air showdown over soccer eligibility

Frank Mitchell said that he had `invited young players to play for Northern Ireland, the team I support'

AFTER a Sinn Féin senator's tweet taking a U105 presenter to task for urging young listeners to play for Northern Ireland instead of the Republic sparked a social media storm, the pair hashed things out on air yesterday.

Frank Mitchell, an avid Northern Ireland fan, listed Catholics who had played for the team, adding: "It's not as if it's going to be better playing for the Republic.

"Trust me lads, if you're young now, if you're 14 or 15 years of age, if you've got the skills, the qualities and the abilities, and you're looking to play international football, play it for us, play it for Northern Ireland."

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile accused him of adopting "a partisan position running contrary to the GFA (Good Friday agreement)" in a public tweet, after which Mr Mitchell invited former onto his mid-morning show.

However, before they had a chance to debate the issue, their respective comments led republicans and loyalists to weigh in on the social media platform to criticise both men's respective positions.

Yesterday the men had a more cordial exchange of views over the airwaves.

Mr Ó Donnghaile said Mitchell was "not in my firing line for supporting Northern Ireland".

"The issue for me and a broad section of our society is that you should tell young people to declare for a particular side, knowing and appreciating full well the deep-rooted sensitivities that that exist around the area of national identity," he said.

Mr Mitchell responded that he had "invited young players to play for Northern Ireland, the team I support, I said `Come, a welcome is there for you'.

"A huge number of people from Sinn Féin criticised me for issuing that welcome."

The disagreement was sparked by a war of words between the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland managers over the recruitment of promising Catholic young players from the north.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill was quoted by the Irish Daily Mail accusing the FAI for "only ever approach(ing) one type of player: Catholic".

Republic manager Martin O'Neill said it is "something that needs to be worked out by the associations".

Martin O'Neill clarified his remarks at a press conference, saying he "did not attack the FAI", but "merely responded to the questions I was asked".

"For me, eligibility is not and should not be a political issue, nor should it be a religious issue. For me, eligibility is a football issue," he added.

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