Donegal senator Robbie Gallagher calls for all-Ireland soccer team to improve Irish chances at international level

Donegal-born senator Robbie Gallagher has called for the formation of an all-Ireland soccer team to improve the strength and depth of the national side.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 10:51 am

He was speaking after the Republic of Ireland's disappointing 0-1 defeat to Luxembourg on Saturday night.

"Along with many other people in the country, I watched as our international soccer team went down 1-0 to Luxembourg at the weekend. It was a hugely disappointing result. I looked across the Border and our friends in the Northern Ireland soccer team are on a similar run where they cannot seem to buy a win either," he said.

Though no longer the minnows they once were - they drew with France in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, finished second in their Nations League group three points behind Montenegro who are now joint top of Group G of the World Cup qualifiers ahead of the Netherlands and Norway - Luxembourg's defeat of Stephen Kenny's side at the weekend surprised many.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny after the defeat to Luxembourg.

Senator Gallagher, who is originally from Termon, referred to the fact that across all football codes with the exception of soccer, as well as in many other sports, players are drawn from every part of the country.

This improves the strength and depth of the respective national sides, he suggested, after the weekend's defeat that left the Republic of Ireland languishing at the bottom of Group A of the European qualifiers for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

"It raises the question many people are asking me that perhaps now is the time for us to have a debate in this country about having an all-island soccer team just like we have in rugby and hockey.

"The reality is that for two small nations, such as Northern Ireland and the Republic, to have two soccer teams on one island and expect them to compete at international level is simply not on anymore. We have seen what we can do when our nation unites.

"We have seen how our rugby team can compete with the very best in the world. Our rugby team beat England less than a week ago - the same English team that went on to compete in a World Cup final not so long ago," he said.

If Senator Gallagher's dream was realised we could look forward to the likes of James McClean, Shane Duffy, Nathan Gartside, Niall McGinn, Ronan Curtis and Shane Ferguson, potentially competing at international level in the same side.

"Northern Ireland, and indeed the Republic, have had some good days in the past. Here, in the Republic, we had an opportunity to watch a programme on Virgin Media One about dementia and the great late Jack Charlton who, like many others, suffered from that disease.

"I saw the scenes of the glory days when we had success in this country - indeed, Northern Ireland have had their day in the sun too - but not as often as we would like. It is time we had that debate," said the Fianna Fáil representative.

He asked the Fine Gael leader in the Seanad Regina Doherty to encourage the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Jack Chambers, to come to the house to discuss the matter.

Senator Doherty replied: "We should be talking about it in light of the request from colleagues last week that the Seanad start to discuss the shared island experience and the outcomes. This probably should be less contentious than some of the other topics. I will organise it after Easter."