Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has responded to comments made by Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill about the FAI’s approach of players.
The Northern Irish boss made the claim last week that the Republic only approach a certain type of Northern-based player to play international football for the Republic – that type being players of a Catholic background, something that has angered Martin O’Neill.
Responding to the comments made by his managerial counterpart in a press conference at the Aviva, Martin O’Neill admitted both his surprise and disappointment at the comments and insisting that he has never approached a player in his time at the helm, whilst seemingly accusing the Northern Ireland boss of hypocrisy – in the case of Alex Bruce.
“What I have a problem with is the unexpected nature of the comments. I think Michael would admit this, that I haven’t even taken one player away from him at senior level.”
“I have had a conversation with him since, he has admitted that I have not taken a senior player. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – as he has taken Alex Bruce.”
The Northern Ireland manager also spoke of his desire to reach an agreement between both football associations in relation to underage footballers, and Martin O’Neill admitted that while this is a discussion he would be open to – the decision of players must be respected when it comes to their desired national representation.
The Derry man made reference to the likes of Jack Grealish and Marcus McGuane – whom Ireland have recently lost to England, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the current case of West Ham’s Declan Rice.
“The most important thing here is, one, that I have never chosen a player on anything other than merit and, two, and this is really, really important, it is down to the player, it is the player’s choice in these issues.”
“I would never take anything for granted. We had the situation with young Grealish. He made the decision, and I accept that. “So until someone says ‘this is exactly what I want to do’, I’d be hopeful, but if someone wants to change their mind, that’s entirely their choice.”
While these comments certainly make for interesting reading, the Ireland manager did not stop there – as he also questioned Michael O’Neill’s decision to bring up religion in the matter, referring to the fact that he had once captained a Northern Ireland side containing players from both denominations without any tensions existing within the panel.
“To actually talk about religion and bring religion into it…I think that’s something you’ll have to ask Michael about. I’ve played for Northern Ireland 60-odd times, captained them a number of times during their most successful period. Not only had we great players playing from both sides of the political divide but we had great camaraderie, so it’s very disappointing.”
The back-and-forth between both managers will do little to ease the existing tensions between North and South, and with a friendly game coming up between the two sides on November 15th, it is hoped that they do not boil over between now and then.
You can watch O’Neill’s interview here.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena.