Northern Ireland boss not setting sights on Cliftonville star

Clearer Water Irish Cup Final
Cliftonville Fans  during this Afternoon’s game at NFS @ Windsor Park, Belfast.  
Photo - Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press
Cliftonville Ronan Hale In todays game in Windsor Pk Belfast Cliftonville v Linfield in the Clearer Water irish Cup Final 4/5\/24 Pacemaker Press (Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press)

CLIFTONVILLE striker Ronan Hale is not in Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s sights despite his fine form for the Reds.

O’Neill acknowledged that he could have called up the 25-year-old for next month’s friendlies against Spain and Andorra but did not consider that out of respect for his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.

Asked if Hale had been considered after his two goals in extra time against Linfield won Cliftonville the Irish Cup after a 45-year wait, O’Neill answered: “No, because he has played for the Republic of Ireland. I wouldn’t pick a player unless he had committed to do an international transfer.

“The fact is we could pick him and play him but it wouldn’t really count for anything and I don’t think that would send the right message to the rest of the squad. That might be a conversation that Ronan and I can have.”

That’s not likely to be a chat that would last long though, with the north Belfast man having previously declared his desire to represent the Republic, and doing so at both U19 and U21 levels several years back.

Those appearances would not preclude Hale from switching his allegiance to NI, as O’Neill acknowledged, even if that’s unlikely to occur: “Ronan has not been in our squads from a young age. He has been in the Republic squads from a young age but he is still eligible to play for us if he opts to do that.”

Interestingly, O’Neill has been contacted by teams interested in bringing the Reds attacker into professional football ‘across the water’ and was able to give them a good account of Hale’s talent: “I’ve had a couple of calls about him from clubs in the UK. He has had a great season and I was here for the Irish Cup final when he had a great day.”

Hale did have a spell at Birmingham City as a teenager before returning home, playing on loan at Derry City before moving on to Crusaders, St Patrick’s Athletic, Larne, and then to Cliftonville in 2022.