Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has his (final) say on eligibility issues
MICHAEL O'Neill says he has been "misunderstood" by Martin O'Neill and "continually misrepresented by sections of the media" over the player eligibility issue.
The Northern Ireland manager declined to take any questions on the subject at a squad announcement media conference but instead read out a 600-word statement.
Indeed O'Neill declared that "This will be the last time I discuss this issue in public…"
In the statement, he said he was pleased that his 'counterpart at the FAI' had indicated his willingness to meet and discuss the matter.
Using that terminology for the Republic of Ireland manager may indicate some tension between the two, although the younger O'Neill did refer to him as 'Martin' very soon afterwards:
Asked about his current relationship with Martin O'Neill, the NI manager replied with a question of his own – and with an exasperated laugh: "Is Martin going to be involved in the Korea game in any shape or form?"
With regard to "the rights of players born in Northern Ireland to be free to choose for whom they wish to play", O'Neill insisted:
"I have never disputed that right, nor have I ever been critical of a player for exercising that right."
The NI boss also insisted that he "did not attack the FAI" in a newspaper interview last week when he talked about them targeting only Catholic players from the north.
However, he did complain about the limited communication received from the FAI in relation to players in which they are interested, commenting:
"There is no dialogue with our coaches from their respective counterparts at the FAI besides an email from the FAI's licensing department requesting information on the player."
He also suggested that "too many talented young players" have paid "a heavy price paid" after changing "allegiance to a country that ultimately doesn't rate them, nor play them…"
The 48-year-old said he was appealing "for transparency and fairness at underage level".
He has called for there to be no approaches to players about changing their international allegiance until they are at least 21, explaining:
"My concerns lie specifically with players aged 17-21 in the underage set-ups.
"I've seen a heavy price paid by too many talented young players; players who have transferred their allegiance to a country that ultimately doesn't rate them, nor play them, creating an international vacuum for the player that signals a wholly different outcome to the career that they may have had.
"My request therefore, to the FAI and to any other association, is this: that if a young player has chosen to represent Northern Ireland at U17, U19, or U21 level, that he is allowed to develop in these crucial, formative years without the responsibility of having to make a decision regarding his international allegiance that is binding for the rest of his career."
Although had spoken about Catholic players in that interview, O'Neill stated:
"For me, eligibility is not, and should not, be a political issue. Nor should it be a religious issue.
"For me, eligibility is a football issue."
O'Neill expanded on that latter point, arguing that the two associations must look after young players: "We and the FAI have a responsibility to invest in and nurture talent on both sides of the border.
"With that comes a duty and an obligation to protect those young talents in their most formative and vulnerable years."