Irish football has been long associated with the famous ‘granny rule’. FIFA regulations have served Ireland well with many recruits becoming key players in the past.
However, in recent years some players have jumped back to the country of their birth with some Ireland born and raised players even opting to represent other nations.
High profile players like Michael Keane, Patrick Bamford and Jack Grealish have represented Ireland at underage level only to switch back to their native England.
Other recent Ireland youths like Marcus Agyei-Tabi, Dan Crowley (both Arsenal) and Jordan Graham (Wolves) have also opted for the country of their birth.
Andy Lonergan was an Irish under-16 goalkeeper before settling on England while Alex Bruce, who was born in Norwich, played for Ireland in two friendlies before he plucked for Northern Ireland instead.
Kieran Murtagh is perhaps a more obscure example. Born in England to an Irish father, Murtagh played for Ireland at under-17 level before declaring for Antigua and Barbuda. The Woking midfielder has an impressive five goals in 22 games for the Caribbean nation.
Shane Lowry (not to be confused with the golfer), formally of Aston Villa and Millwall, represented Ireland at under-17 and under-21 level. Lowry was born in Perth, Australia to Irish parents and ultimately threw his lot in with the Socceroos. He has yet to make an international appearance since his switch but a move to the A-League with hometown club Perth Glory may help his chances.
Like Lowry, England-born Neil Kilkenny also played for Ireland before choosing Australia. He has won 14 caps for his county but did represent the Ireland under-19s in 2003 prior to his switch. The former Leeds and Birmingham City player now plays for Melbourne City in the A-League.
Lynden Gooch is another recent example. Born to an English father and Irish mother in the United States, the Sunderland player featured for Ireland’s under-18 side before earning full international honours with the country of his birth. He made his United States debut against New Zealand last year.
Despite the high number of foreign-born players turning down the chance of an Irish international career, some players born or raised in Ireland have also decided to represent other nations.
Dublin-born Eamonn Zayed was one of the League of Ireland’s hottest properties in the early noughties and was tipped for full international honours while at Bray Wanderers. Despite representing Ireland at the 2003 Under-20 World Cup and becoming a prolific goalscorer of Drogheda United, Sporting Fingal and Derry City, no Ireland caps followed.
However, in 2011 he received a call-up to the Libya national team, his father’s native country. The call-up earned him a move to Iranian giants Persepolis where he continued his prolific form. He has eight caps and one goal for his national side and is still banging in the goals for Indy Eleven in the North American Soccer League.
Ayman Ben Mohamed is another former Irish underage player to go back to his North African roots. Although born in London, Ben Mohamed was raised in Ireland where he started his career with UCD. After catching the eye with the Students, he was signed by Bohemians where his technical ability and skill stood out making him one of the best players in the League of Ireland.
His performances were quickly recognised by the Tunisia national team who were made aware of his eligibility and a call-up to the North Africans was soon followed by a move to Esperance, one of the biggest clubs in Africa. Although Ben Mohamed is yet to feature for Tunisia, he could be a player the FAI will regret letting slip through the net.
Middleton-born Shane O’Neill is the son of former Cork All-Ireland winner Colm O’Neill. Perhaps an exception as he has never represented Ireland at any level, he began his MLS career with Kevin Doyle’s Colorado Rapids where Caleb Folan also played while O’Neill was a youth player. Now based in Europe with NAC Breda (on loan from Apollon Limassol) O’Neill has represented the USA at under-20 and under-23 level.
He trained with the seniors in 2014 but remains eligible for Ireland having yet to make a competitive appearance. A commanding centre half capable of playing at right-back, his fellow countyman Roy Keane could convince him to pull on the green jersey. O’Neill perhaps has a strong affiliation to the USA having grown up there but could be open to a change of mind if approached.
Northern Ireland-born Brian Quinn also deserves a mention. The Belfast man grew up playing hurling and Gaelic football. Having moved to the USA at 21 to play for the LA Aztecs, Quinn declared for his adoptive country and made his debut against the Republic of Ireland the same year. He went on to win the Gold Cup with the USA and helped them to secure a third placed finish at the confederations cup in 1992. He is currently assistant coach at the University of San Diego.
Willie Maley is another Northern Irish example. Born in Newry in 1968, the former Celtic player and manager went on to win two caps for Scotland. He famously managed the Hoops for over 40 years.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena
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