Martin O'Neill hopes for trouble-free clash of Irish sides in Dublin

Republic of Ireland's James McClean will play some part in tonight's north-south derby
From Brendan Crossan at Abbotstown

International friendly: Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland (Thursday, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm)

MARTIN O’Neill says he is hoping for a “trouble-free” night in Dublin as Republic of Ireland host neighbours Northern Ireland in a prestigious friendly clash.

The Republic boss also revealed he wouldn’t “disown” James McClean after the Derry man came under fire for not wearing a poppy last weekend and that he would definitely feature in tonight’s north versus south meeting at the Aviva Stadium.

McClean could be a target of the boo boys this evening for his decision not to wear a poppy and the fact he switched allegiances earlier in his career.

“Yes, I have spoken to him,” O’Neill confirmed.

“I wouldn’t disown him because of that. He’s in really good fettle and I think he’s mindful of everything that has gone on. Whether he starts the game or he comes on he will definitely play a part in proceedings.”

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The last time the two sides met was in Dublin back in 2011 – not long after the IFA lost an appeal to the court of arbitration for sport to stop their northern-born underage players declaring for the south.

Consequently, many Northern Ireland fans boycotted the Carling Nations Cup fixture while both anthems were booed prior to the game.

The IFA had an allocation of 3,000 for tonight’s friendly encounter but the association only made them available to campaign cardholders and as a result only 2,000 tickets were purchased.

“Naturally, you want any game to go ahead trouble-free. It’s the north versus south and past history – hopefully it should pass okay,” O'Neill said.

Player eligibility rows have soured relations between the two associations in recent years with Martin O’Neill expecting a level of friction to continue.

“It’s going to rear its head more often,” he said.

“One of the solutions might be if you play a senior friendly game that would count as a proper senior game. And I would tell FIFA to cap Declan Rice immediately!” quipped the Republic manager as he waits on a final decision from the highly-rated West Ham who has played three friendly games for Ireland but has had his head turned by England’s interest.

O’Neill is also waiting on a decision from Southampton’s Michael Obafemi who was born in Dublin to Nigerian parents but can also play for England or Nigeria.

Naturally, there was no drum beating from either camp ahead of tonight’s clash, while both the IFA and FAI launched a joint bid to host the 2023 European U21 championships.

Michael O’Neill said: “They [Republic of Ireland] are an incredibly hard working team, even in the results that have gone against them, it's not been for a lack of endeavour and a lack of commitment or work rate.

“Martin's squad is in transition like ours and we'll have to deal with players coming in with a real enthusiasm to play, players that want to prove themselves at international level. Much like our players as well.”

While both managers made all the right noises at their respective press conferences yesterday, winning a north-south derby will put a spring in the step of the victors as each looks forward to next month's Euro 2020 qualification draw.

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