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Martin O'Neill disappointed by Michael O'Neill's poaching claims

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

MARTIN O’Neill has labelled claims that the Republic of Ireland attempts to poach Catholics from the north as “very disappointing”.

Reacting to the recent accusations levelled at the FAI by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill who claimed: “The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic”, the Republic boss said the comments had been unexpected and were “untrue” of his time in charge of ‘the Boys in Green’.

“I do have a problem with the unexpected nature of the comments,” said Martin O’Neill yesterday.

“If they are remarks on my time here, I think that would be untrue. I haven’t ever taken a player away from him at senior level, but I’ve no problem having a discussion.”

O’Neill has included three players born in the north – Derry natives Eunan O’Kane, James McClean and Shane Duffy – in his 30-man provisional squad for the Republic’s friendly against Turkey later this month.

Not included are Darron Gibson and Marc Wilson who also represented Northern Ireland at youth level before exercising their right to opt to play senior football with the Republic. Both have been capped by Martin O’Neill.

Earlier this week NI boss Michael O’Neill (right) had 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 age 17 to 21, the FAI don’t ask him to change.”

But the Republic supremo said his Northern Ireland counterpart – who won 31 caps with the north a – has never broached the topic of player-poaching any time they have met.

“Funnily enough, I did meet him at a game quite recently,” said former Celtic manager O’Neill.

“We were watching Fulham play at Craven Cottage. We had a very trivial conversation and he never mentioned these points – I wish he had done privately. It was a surprise, but I’ve had a conversation with him since and he has admitted that I have not taken a senior player from him. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as Alex Bruce went to him in my time here.

“I played for Northern Ireland 60-odd times, I was captain loads of times during one of the most successful periods. Not only did we have great players from both sides of the religious divide, but we had a great camaraderie.

“It’s very disappointing. The most important issue is that I’ve never chosen a player on anything other than merit, and it is the player’s choice with these issues.”

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