Martin O’Neill responds to claims Ireland are targeting Catholic players from Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland head coach Martin O'Neill Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Martin O’Neill has expressed his surprise at Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s claim that the Republic of Ireland are targeting Catholic players from across the border.

Current internationals James McClean, Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson, Eunan O’Kane and Marc Wilson represented Northern Ireland at youth level before exercising their right to opt to play senior football with the Republic.

However, Michael O’Neill has accused the Football Association of Ireland of focusing only on Catholic players, a suggestion which was met with consternation by his counterpart.

Speaking as he announced a 30-man provisional squad for the friendly against Turkey later this month, Republic boss O’Neill said: “I do have a problem with the unexpected nature of the comments.

“If they are remarks on my time here, I think that would be untrue. I haven’t even taken a player away from him at senior level, but I’ve no problem having a discussion.”

Michael O’Neill is hoping to strike a gentlemen’s agreement with the Republic manager over under-age players, although Martin O’Neill revealed the subject has never arisen when the pair have met recently.

He said: “Funnily enough, I did meet him at a game quite recently. 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.”

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