Eligibility issue still riling NI boss

THE Carling Nations Cup may not have exactly heated up, but Nigel Worthington has certainly warmed up.

His smiling demeanour at Stillorgan’s Radisson Hotel yesterday was in stark contrast to his frosty press conference on the eve of the competition’s kick-off.

Part of the reason for that, of course, was the stream of Northern-born players opting for the Republic of Ireland.

That continued in the build-up to tonight’s match with Preston’s Daniel Devine and Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson likely to be the latest. But, while Worthington’s mood might have changed, his opinions on the issue haven’t.

In fact, he offered some far-reaching reforms for FIFA’s eligibility rules.

“I think the window has to be shut firmly and with no gaps. You are born in a country and that is it.

“And I think that would take away the issues we have where Joe Bloggs wants to go elsewhere.

“I’m a big believer that you represent the country you are born into. I always think our players have a greater opportunity of gaining international caps with us because of how many more youngsters the Republic or Scotland or England have got.”

Such a narrow interpretation of nationality, of course, would have created problems for squads on both sides of the border throughout their histories. Neither would have been able to benefit from the many second-generation migrants. Curiously, Worthington has “no issue with that”. “There is that scenario... I’d loved to have had Brazilian parents!”

While Worthington also made sure to insist he is not happy with the current situation, he did admit he would do his utmost to use it to Northern Ireland’s benefit.

“If I could go and get a player from England or Scotland or Wales I would. The situation is there so I would use it. The quicker the situation is in black and white, the better. You are born in a country and you represent that country.”

Newcastle’s highly-promising young left-sided player, Ferguson, falls into the grey area as a Derry native. But, with the 19-year-old widely expected to opt for the FAI, Worthington would only admit that his calls to the defender had gone unanswered.

As Worthington went through his line-up, part of his frustration became understandable. Against Giovanni Trapattoni’s team tonight, the Northern Irish manager will field a 17-year-old debutant in Ipswich’s Josh Carson, a further two 18-year-olds in Adam Thompson and Johnny Gorman as well as 19-year-old Lee Hodson.

Six of the starting XI have only 12 caps between them, while the average age is just 23. The timing of the fixture has also played a part.

“The two games at this time are very awkward. But I’ll live with that. We’ve got players who have played 50-odd games in the season and they need a rest. We have got players who are getting married, players with injures. You have got to be fair... We have got to be fair to the sponsors too. If and when the dust settles after everything has happened then we can reflect and see what’s what in terms of the Carling Nations Cup’s future.”

Yet Worthington remained upbeat. “I think it’s always interesting to find out how the youngsters take to it, deal with it and perform. We’ll be looking to take the pluses from it regardless of the situation after 90 minutes. If we go out with our set-up and do what we have to do, we can do okay.”

NORTHERN IRELAND: A Blayney; A Thompson, L Hodson, C Cathcart, G McAuley; S Clingan, S Davis, J Carson, J Gorman; W Feeney, J McQuoid.


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