Only A Game? - Irish v Northern Irish

Presseye Northern Ireland - 15th March 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-William Cherry/Presseye''Northern Ireland manager Michael O�"Neill announced his squad for the World Cup Qualifiers against Russia and Israel at a press conference at Ballyrobert Vauxhall car showroom in Mallusk.
Presseye Northern Ireland - 15th March 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-William Cherry/Presseye''Northern Ireland manager Michael O�"Neill announced his squad for the World Cup Qualifiers against Russia and Israel at a press conference at Ballyrobert Vauxhall car showroom in Mallusk.

The decision taken by any footballer to either declare for Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland is not and never will be a black and white one. It’s a contentious topic to say the least but there really is no right or wrong answer; it all hinges on circumstance.

The older I get, the harder I find it to feel some fathom of national pride; I didn’t ask to be born here.

According to my passport I am Irish and that’s where nationality stops and starts for me. It’s something that has only come upon me in recent months but cheering on a team, a person or even listening to a particular band just because they are from the same country or city as me is just something I don’t find appealing.

There are people living in Lima, Delhi and Shanghai that I would have more in common with than with some of the people living on the Culmore Road, Kilfennan or the Glen.

But that’s how I feel and it’s only my opinion. I am not for one moment saying that everyone should be like me. After all it takes all sorts to make the world go around.

Some people, including footballers, feel a tremendous sense of national pride and from the moment they start kicking a football, lining out for either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, becomes their dream.

Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill is a Catholic from Portadown. The former Shamrock Rovers boss represented Northern Ireland over 30 times during his international career and love him or hate him, he’s been employed by the Irish Football Association to build a new team and win matches.

O’Neill, who is still seeking his first win after 13 months in charge, is well within his rights to talk to any eligible player about representing Northern Ireland - that’s his job.

I don’t think O’Neill has any ulterior motives when he does this; he just wants to do whatever he can to hopefully help Northern Ireland reach a World Cup or a European Championship.

Earlier this week, Michael O’Neill, said he thought some players who were born in the North of Ireland but who have since declared for the Republic of Ireland made poor choices.

“Marc Wilson had his problems, James (McClean) has had his problems, Darron Gibson has certainly not played anywhere near as much for the Republic of Ireland as he would have done for Northern Ireland,” said O’Neill.

“Daniel Kearns, I feel a bit sorry (for). He was, possibly, a young lad that was put in a position that maybe the association shouldn’t have put him in.

“As a player at 17 or 19, to change your allegiance without any potential promise of a full international career, I think there’s a moral issue there. I don’t think that’s to the benefit of a player’s career. And I think there is a moral aspect, as an association, to make sure that the interest is genuine.”

It would be far too easy for me to defend the concept if Irish identity and totally discredit Michael O’Neill but if I am honest, I think he has a point.

Antrim born Marc Wilson, who looks set to start for the Republic of Ireland against Sweden on Friday, hit back at O’Neill, telling him to mind his own business and insisting that he didn’t chose to play for Ireland to further his career.

“I don’t know how he [Michael O’Neill] could say we would have had a better career if we chose to play for Northern Ireland to be honest,” said Wilson.

“I think that’s none of his business. You don’t pick your country for a career, definitely not.”

I can see why O’Neill feels so strongly about someone like Wilson. If Wilson felt so strongly about his Irish identity then why did he represent Northern Ireland at underage level.

The same can be said about Derry born duo James McClean and Shane Duffy (both of whom represented Northern Ireland at U21 level). If they are and I can only imagine, were, proud to be Irish then why represent Northern Ireland?

It’s simple. Circumstances change and whilst most footballers won’t probably admit it, if they are well within their rights to switch to a country they are more likely to experience success with they will grab that chance with both hands. You, I and even Michael O’Neill would do the same if we were in that situation. There’s no law in football to say a footballer can’t change his mind.

Whilst Irish identity plays a part in a player’s decision to declare for the Republic of Ireland, I think it’s totally disingenuous for anyone to say that they don’t pick their country for a career.

If Marc Wilson was eligible to play for Brazil, Italy or even Spain, I wonder would he be so enthusiastic about singing Amhrán na bhFiann.

Michael O’Neill is right when he says that there is a moral issue that needs to be discussed when it comes to players from the North declaring for Ireland but that’s all it can be... a discussion.

Unless a player born in the North of Ireland has represented Northern Ireland competitively then he is free to switch allegiance to the Republic of Ireland. No one ever said you had to like the rules...