Radio presenter Frank Mitchell has defended his call for all young footballers of international standard born in Northern Ireland to play for Northern Ireland.
The former GAA star sparked a furious response on social media when on Friday when he nailed his colours firmly to the Green and White Army’s mast with a plea on U105 for teenagers – from all backgrounds – to aspire to play for Michael O’Neill’s team.
“Trust me lads, if you’re young now, if you’re 14 or 15 years of age, if you’ve got the skills, the qualities and the abilities, and you’re looking to play international football, play it for us, play it for Northern Ireland,” he said.
In response, Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile tweeted: “Someone just told me Frank Mitchell on radio appealed 2 young people here 2 only play for the NI soccer squad & not declare for Ireland; but I struggle to believe UTV would allow a presenter to adopt such a partisan position running contrary to the GFA.”
In a recent newspaper interview, Michael O’Neill was highly critical of the football authorities in the Republic – accusing the FAI of poaching players who had come through the ranks north of the border, with substantial amounts of time and money spent on their development.
During the Twitter exchange that followed Friday’s radio programme, the presenter posed the question: “Where in the Good Friday Agreement does it say that a broadcaster from Northern Ireland can’t issue a welcome to all young players?”
Mr O Donnghaile was invited to take part in Monday’s programme. He told the host: “Look at the horrible sectarianism inflicted on people choosing to play for Ireland 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement. It shouldn’t be an issue.”
He also said he believed the “best solution” is an all-Ireland football team.
“Ireland works best when it works together as proved on the rugby pitch,” Mr O Donnghaile said.
Mr Mitchell stressed that he issued the “warmest of invitations” for players to opt for NI – at no time suggesting it was inappropriate to opt for the Republic – and asked Mr O Donnghaile if he would call on Sinn Fein supporters to be “more measured in their language” following the abuse directed at the U105 host.
Mr O Donnghaile replied: “If people are in Sinn Fein ... they should adhere to the party’s strict guidelines around social media use.”