Michael O’Neill: NI manager’s dismay over ‘Catholic only’ FAI player poaching

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has cried foul against the FAI, claiming the Republic’s governing body only approaches Catholic players with a view to switching allegiance.

The rules governing international football allow anyone eligible to represent one country to play for the other, provided they have not been capped at senior level.

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

In recent years a number of young players born north of the border, who represented Northern Ireland at youth and under-21 level, later played for the Republic.

The current Northern Ireland manager says he respects the decisions of players like James McClean who made the switch aged 22, but is deeply unhappy that younger, potential full Northern Ireland internationals who come from nationalist backgrounds are being approached by the FAI.

“The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic,” he told the Irish Daily Mail.

“I don’t have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it’s a 16, 17 or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.

“I can list you 10 players who have made that decision and have never represented the Republic.”

O’Neill, the second Ulster-born Catholic to manage the national team after Peter Doherty in the 1950s, said he will be seeking a meeting with his counterpart in the Republic, Martin O’Neill, in the hope of agreeing an upper age limit for approaches.

“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,” he added.

The Northern Ireland manager also said he was proud that his team sheets feature players from different backgrounds.

“I always look at the team before a game and typically eight to nine of the eleven are Northern Ireland born. It’s something that I’m quite proud of that identity and also that both sides of the community are represented,” he added.