All-Ireland team within two generations - Giles

John Giles during his playing days with Ireland  

AN ALL-IRELAND team will eventually happen, but it is still a “couple of generations away”, according to Irish football legend John Giles.

The former Republic of Ireland player and manager reckons the two football associations, north and south, will merge and a united team will form, despite recent successes of the separate sides. 

Northern Ireland will compete in their first-ever Euro finals next summer, while the Republic can join them should they come through next month’s play-offs.

Giles, who managed the Republic of Ireland between 1973 and '79, said: “I think an All-Ireland team will come about some day. I wouldn’t put a time on it. When you look back at the 1970s and '80s, things have improved.

His comments come after it was revealed in a book that talks took place at the height of the Troubles between the IFA and FAI about developing an all-Ireland side.

"It’ll probably take another couple of generations and for common sense to prevail. We do it in rugby, we do it in athletics. I won’t see it in my life-time, but I think it will come about."

The former Leeds United star added: “I'd definitely love to see it happening. At the minute, there are two revenue streams rather than one.

"All that type of thing comes into it, unfortunately. But the fact that there is no violence - now, there are [dissident] factions - that’s progress. You put another 15 years on it... I think things have changed dramatically over time and, as the political situation improves, the sporting situation will improve as well and I think everything will integrate naturally.”

In his new book, The Irish Soccer Split, academic Cormac Moore revealed the two associations, the FAI and IFA, held talks between 1973 and '80 in an attempt to merge the two football teams on the island, but the prevailing political violence of the day proved a major hindrance. Giles was surprised to learn of Moore's revelations, as he was senior manager of the Republic team during that period.

“I was involved as Republic of Ireland manager from 1973 to ’79 and I never heard anything," said Giles, now a popular soccer pundit with RTÉ.

"Whether there was anything going on or not, I don’t know. Cormac says there was, but I wasn’t involved at all. I don’t think any of the managers or players were involved in any of the talks. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, it obviously did.

“I think it’s an interesting book. I learned a lot from it and how far it went back. You have to go back to find the present.”

Giles maintains that the players, both north and south, would be receptive to the notion of an All-Ireland team based on the premise that it would enhance their chances of success.

“When I was Republic manager, the north and south teams had about four or five outstanding players each, but not enough to push it on and qualify for major tournaments. I think all the players in my time would have wanted an All-Ireland team. I never found any problems with the Northern Ireland lads at all. We had the All-Ireland team [officially named Shamrock Rovers XI] that played Brazil in 1973.”

Pat Jennings, Martin O’Neill, Derek Dougan and Bryan Hamilton were among the northern contingent that lined out for the All-Ireland side that beat the Brazilians 4-3.

Giles added: “You might have got the odd one who might’ve objected to it – but the players would have been delighted to have a united Ireland team because they had a better chance of winning.

“That’s all the players were bothered about... In my day, there was Pat Jennings, Georgie [Best], Alan Hunter, Martin O’Neill and Derek Dougan from the north and, while I was manager, we had Liam Brady, David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton, Tony Dunne, myself and a few other players. It would have been a really, really top class team.”

Northern Ireland and the Republic first clashed in the qualification stages of the 1980 European Championships, with the sides drawing in Dublin and the North winning 1-0 in Belfast.

“I think when you took lads out of the environment, a lot of those players were playing in England; it’s a different story altogether," said Giles. 

"Any northern lads that I came across – Catholic or Protestant – I never had any problems. We were playing football, we wanted to be successful and we knew if we were playing together it would be a better team. We weren’t interested in the political situation.”

Moore claims talks to unify the two teams during the 1970s ultimately fell down because of the “the political climate” and Northern Ireland’s subsequent successes in reaching back-to-back World Cup finals in 1982 and ’86.


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