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Mark Sykes explains why he switched international allegiance

Mark Sykes Ireland

“I’ve always wanted to represent the Republic of Ireland.”

Oxford United midfielder Mark Sykes has explained why he has switched international allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.

Sykes, 23, was a key player for Northern Ireland at under-21 level under Ian Baraclough, who is currently the country’s senior manager. When Baraclough succeeded Michael O’Neill as manager last year, he sought to include Sykes in his plans.

The Belfast-native, however, wants to play for the Republic of Ireland, even if Stephen Kenny has offered him no guarantee that he would be in the squad.

Mark Sykes Ireland

Mark Sykes on why he turned down the chance to play for Northern Ireland and declare for the Republic of Ireland.

Sykes, who has played 83 times for Oxford since joining them from Glenavon in 2019, was included in Northern Ireland’s squad for Nations League games against Romania and Norway last September. He rejected the call-up though and broke the news to Barraclough via a phone call.

“It was really difficult,” Sykes told The Irish News about his phone call to inform the Northern Ireland manager that he wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland.

“I said: ‘I’m going to change allegiances. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.’

“When I spoke to Ian on the phone he said: ‘Do you think the Republic of Ireland can guarantee you 70 or 80 caps?’ And I was thinking: ‘Is that what you can guarantee me?’

“But I’ve always wanted to represent the Republic of Ireland and I knew it was a tougher pathway.”

Mark Sykes: I have always wanted to represent the Republic of Ireland.

Sykes, who speaks fluent Irish, said that he always wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland and that his decision wasn’t motivated by anything other than that desire.

“I told Ian it was nothing to do with religion – as my partner is Protestant,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I see myself as an Irish person and the right thing for me to do was to represent Republic of Ireland. It’s that simple.

“Whenever someone switched back from Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland they didn’t get half the backlash that I did.

“People will pick and choose when they say things but that’s just the way life is. It doesn’t bother me.”

Mark Sykes Ireland

Mark Sykes: Stephen Kenny offered me no ‘false promises’ about Republic call-up.

The midfielder also revealed he has spoken with Kenny, the Republic of Ireland manager, and that he wasn’t given any guarantees that he would be an automatic pick in the squad. Sykes said that playing for the Republic of Ireland is his ultimate career ambition.

“To be fair to Stephen Kenny, he said: ‘Listen, I’m not going to make you any false promises that you’re going to be in the squad for this or that match,” he said.

“It was just the opportunity of representing the Republic of Ireland at senior level. It was something I’d love to do and I know if it happened it would be my proudest moment in football.”

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