No eligibility worries for North boss O’Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill does not expect the appointment of Martin O’Neill as Republic of Ireland boss to have a significant impact on the problematic issue of player eligibility.

One of the touchstones of Michael O’Neill’s tenure at Windsor Avenue has been his attempt to stem the flow of talented Northern Irish-born talent to the Republic. Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and James McClean all went on to play for the Republic’s senior team despite being born in the north, while a handful of young players have played at age-group level for Northern Ireland before taking advantage of a Fifa-ruling that allows them to switch to the FAI banner.

The Irish Football Association (IFA) has worked hard at grassroots level to buck that trend as well as persuading Alex Bruce to play for them despite earning two friendly caps for the Republic.

But the presence of Martin O’Neill, a celebrated former Northern Ireland captain, in the Republic dugout could prove a stumbling block.

“I don’t think it will be an issue at all to be honest,” said Michael O’Neill.

“It doesn’t really matter who is in charge of the Republic in terms of the eligibility question.

“My focus, pure and simple, is to make sure that our young players know what we are trying to do as an association and what we are trying to build with our younger players in terms of giving them the chance of having an international career. I know most of our young age-group footballers by name and have worked on the training pitch with them and hopefully that is a help. I’ve spoken to Martin on a few occasions and he was very helpful to me before I took this job and since.

“He’ll just be another international manager to me, no different to Roy Hodgson, Chris Coleman or Gordon Strachan. This whole issue is probably more of a media thing that it is for me or Martin.”


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