Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has told critics to lay off Londonderry footballer James McClean, who opted to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland.
The Sunderland winger has received death threats and abuse on social networking site Twitter since being named in Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic squad for the Euro 2012 finals.
While the player himself has tweeted that he loves the “dog's abuse” dished out by Northern Ireland fans, McGuinness, in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph about his sporting life and loves, has urged everyone to give McClean a break.
“If a young fella decides to opt for the North or the South, I don't think anyone should interfere politically with their choices,” said Mr McGuinness.
“If they believe their career is best served by whatever team they play for, we should support them.
“Why should we be down on young people who take a decision to play for the North or South? We should admire what they are doing and let them get on with it.”
Mr McGuinness, who would prefer to see an all-Ireland football team, added that he sees McClean as a modern day hero.
“James was like many other young people in the city, and probably wouldn't have had tuppence in his pocket,” he said.
“He didn't make it on to the first team at Sunderland under Steve Bruce initially, but Martin O'Neill came in and James got his opportunity and hasn't looked back since.”
The passionate sports fan also spoke about what it was like returning to Windsor Park almost 50 years on from his first visit to the ground, and why he fell in love with cricket.