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Michael O’Neill Hits Out At FAI’s Recruitment Of Northern Ireland Underage Stars

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - NOVEMBER 11: Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan at Windsor Park on November 11, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Michael O’Neill’s has expressed his disappointment with the FAI over their pursuit for young Northern Irish players.

His comments come in the wake of Jordan McEneff’s debut for the Republic of Ireland Under-16s. The Arsenal youth and his brother, Aaron of Derry City, both recently switched their international allegiances from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.

“We know we will face a challenge on young players, we know conversations happen between the Republic of Ireland and our young players but I thought it was terrible to approach a player (McEneff) with two games of our U-21 Euro campaign to go,” O’Neill is quoted as saying in the Irish Independent.

“I thought it was poor for the Republic of Ireland to do that, to ask a young player to make that decision and I made that clear to (Ireland U-21 boss) Noel King at the time.

“With Jordan McEneff, I feel for our coaching staff who had worked with the boy for three years. He captained our Under-16 Victory Shield side and after that he opted out. There was nothing we could do.”

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, Tallaght Stadium, Dublin 10/3/2017 Shamrock Rovers vs Derry City Derry's Aaron McEneff celebrates at the end of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tom Beary
Derry’s Aaron McEneff.
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tom Beary.


The situation is a frustrating one for the Northern Ireland boss with the issue arising well before his tenure. Current internationals James McClean, Shane Duffy, Marc Wilson, Darron Gibson and Eunan O’Kane are all prime examples of players that threw their lot in with the Republic following stints in Northern Irish youth set-ups. All were entitled to do so under FIFA regulations .

The former Shamrock Rovers manager’s side have managed to prevent the likes of Shane Ferguson, Ryan McLaughlin and Paddy McNair declaring in recent times but it remains an ongoing issue. In recent years, Callum Morris, Michael Duffy and Alex Bruce (who played two senior international friendlies for the Republic) have done the opposite and declared or re-declared for the North.

Huddersfield Town’s Sean Scannall can also switch to the Green and White army having received several senior call-ups under Giovanni Trapattoni.

Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena

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Author: Nick Menezes

Nick is a soccer, GAA and rugby fanatic who has a worrying obsession with the Irish football team. His articles focus on Irish football and he also writes some light-hearted pieces, particularly quirky starting XIs.