No poaching from north on my watch says Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
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 O'Neill.
Earlier this week NI boss Michael O'Neill 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 went on to win 31 caps with the north after playing underage Gaelic football with Antrim – 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.”
O'Neill will take his squad to Antalya for a three-day training camp followed by the friendly against the Turks on March 23 which should feature the welcome return of Killybegs native Seamus Coleman.
The Donegal man could play for his country for the first time in a day short of a year following his recovery from the double leg fracture he suffered against Wales in a World Cup qualifier last year.
The 29-year-old Everton full-back is just three games into his comeback at Goodison Park, but his presence on the training pitch will provide a major boost as Ireland resume after the play-off defeat by Denmark which finally ended their dream of making it to Russia this summer.
There are places too for Preston duo Greg Cunningham and Sean Maguire and Brentford's Alan Judge after injury, while O'Neill will also run the rule over a series of young players as he plans for the future after signing his new contract.
Manchester United goalkeeper Kieran O'Hara, West Ham defender Declan Rice, Blackburn counterparts Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams and Sheffield United's Enda Stevens have all been handed senior call-ups, although O'Hara and Rice have previously trained with the squad.
Provisional squad: Rob Elliot (Newcastle), Colin Doyle (Bradford), Kieran O'Hara (Manchester United), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Declan Rice (West Ham), John Egan (Brentford), Shane Duffy (Brighton), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle), Kevin Long (Burnley), Alex Pearce (Derby), Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams (both Blackburn), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Alan Judge (Brentford), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), David Meyler (Hull), Eunan O'Kane (Leeds), Liam Kelly (Reading), Alan Browne, Daryl Horgan (both Preston), James McClean (West Brom), Shane Long (Southampton), Scott Hogan (Aston Villa), Sean Maguire (Preston).