FAI not planning to change its recruitment policy over northern-born players

Rival international managers Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
By Chris Grace

THE FAI have no plans at present to enter into a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the IFA which has been suggested by Michael O’Neill in relation to young northern-born footballers playing for the Republic of Ireland.

In an interview this week, Northern Ireland boss O’Neill criticised the FAI’s recruitment policy of players from the North and claimed that Irish football’s governing body is selective in its approach, targeting Catholics.

It is not the first time O’Neill has raised the thorny subject of losing players to the Republic but his comments in yesterday’s edition of the Irish Daily Mail are the most hard hitting to date.

O’Neill, who recently turned down the opportunity to take charge of Scotland and signed a new six-year deal with the IFA, added that he hoped to secure an agreement with Republic manager Martin O’Neill in which the FAI would not pursue players aged between 17 and 21 who had represented Northern Ireland.

It is understood, however, that the FAI feel they are adhering to the rules put in place by Fifa and at this stage see no reason to change their approach.

Whether or not Martin O’Neill, captain of the Northern Irish team in the 1982 World Cup finals, wishes to look at things differently remains to be seen.

In 2010 the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected an IFA claim that players should not be eligible to play for the Republic simply because they were born in the North.

The likes of James McClean, Shane Duffy and Eunan O’Kane all played for Northern Ireland at underage level but were able to become senior internationals with the Republic.

What frustrates Michael O’Neill is that others who have made the switch south have yet to make it all the way to the senior side.

He said: “I don’t have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it’s a 16-, 17-, or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.

“What is the point of asking a player to change his allegiance, to make a decision about his whole international future, and then not pick him?

“Daniel Devine of Partick Thistle is a west Belfast boy and would have gone to the Euros with us.

“Only he can’t play for Northern Ireland as he’s signed an international transfer. I can list you 10 players who’ve made that decision and have never represented the Republic.”

Former Shamrock Rovers boss O’Neill added: “I hope that Martin and I can get some sort of gentleman’s agreement whereby if a young boy has represented Northern Ireland at aged 17 to 21, the FAI don’t ask him to change.”

O’Neill, a Catholic who won 31 caps for Northern Ireland, also stated: “The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic.”

He feels that Sunderland defender Paddy McNair was contacted by the FAI in the mistaken belief that he was a Catholic.

Republic boss Martin O’Neill will face questions on his namesake’s views tomorrow when he names his squad for the friendly away to Turkey later this month.

Later this year the Republic and Northern Ireland will meet in a friendly on November 15 at the Aviva Stadium when this issue is likely to be raised again.

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