The IFA and FAI have often been involved in a tug-of-war over players in recent times. The unique situation between the two associations ensures players who come up through the Northern Ireland system can declare for the Republic of Ireland national team. James McClean is one of the highest profile players to make such a move in recent times, despite representing the Northern Ireland U21 team on seven occasions.
McClean is one of a host of players who have made a similar switch in recent times, including Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson and Eunan O’Kane.
Speaking to the Irish Daily Mail, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill laid out his thoughts clearly on the issue of players from the six counties representing the Republic of Ireland.
“The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic.”
However, he did clarify that he has no problem with players who make up their mind without being overly pressured by associations.
“I don’t have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it’s a 16, 17 or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.
He went on to express his belief that Paddy McNair was considered by the FAI due to his surname.
“You can’t assume because a player from the North watches GAA that he wants to play for the Republic of Ireland,” he continued, referencing QPR striker Paul Smyth. “I liked the GAA, so did Jim Magilton, and Martin O’Neill. I don’t have a huge fear of Paul going anywhere.”
Of course, this is a natural source of frustration for O’Neill, who has overseen a massive upturn in fortunes in his time as manager of Northern Ireland. After they finished fifth in qualifying for Euro 2012, O’Neill left Shamrock Rovers to take over the national team, taking them to the last 16 of Euro 2016, and they can feel desperately unlucky to have missed out on qualification for their first World Cup since 1986.
The full interview can be read in today’s copy of the Irish Daily Mail.