A bitter pill to swallow for Northern Ireland.
Oxford United midfielder Mark Sykes has explained why he has switched international allegiances from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.
Sykes with Northern Ireland
Sykes made 11 appearances for the Northern Ireland Under-21s and in the past, was named in a few senior squads under the previous manager Michael O’Neill.
The 23-year-old came very close to tieing down his future to Northern Ireland when he was named on the bench for a Euro 2020 qualifier against Belarus in June 2019. However, he didn’t make an appearance on that day which opened up the possibility of switching allegiances to the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough was set to name Sykes in his squad today but the midfielder informed the manager and the IFA that he is declaring for Stephen Kenny’s side.
Sykes has since explained his decision which he describes as “really difficult.”
Mark Sykes: “I have to do what my heart says.”
“It was a really difficult decision,” Sykes told Oxford United’s website.
“I genuinely wish Northern Ireland all the best and know they will do well under their new manager, who I have worked with before and really like.
“The last few weeks have given me time to think about things and I have to do what my heart says.
“The Republic of Ireland are the team I have always dreamed of playing for and I have to try my best to achieve that.
“I am proud to have been involved with the Northern Ireland team, and have always given it my all, but I had to make a choice and it had to be now.”
“I spoke with Mark and know how tough his decision was.”
Oxford United manager Karl Robinson said the club respects his decision to switch to the Republic of Ireland.
“I spoke with Mark and know how tough his decision was. He has not taken it lightly and he has been agonising over what to do but ultimately he needed to make a choice and as a club we respect his decision.
“He is still a young man, he has a great future ahead of him and he has been very honest over this. So, all we can do is back him and help him continue to progress as a player.”
It will be interesting to see if Mark Sykes can make it into Kenny’s future Ireland squads. The new Republic of Ireland boss named his first squad today ahead of the UEFA Nations League matches against Bulgaria and Finland.