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Biting Back: Eligibility issue could benefit Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Published 11/06/2015

Northern Ireland's training match with the Republic took place behind closed doors David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Northern Ireland's training match with the Republic took place behind closed doors David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Northern Ireland's preparations for their big Euro 2016 showdown with Romania at Windsor Park on Saturday couldn't have been more bizarre.

A friendly against Qatar in Crewe and a behind closed doors game against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva is a pretty unusual script.

Young players from this part of the island can now play for the Republic as long as they haven't featured in a competitive match for Northern Ireland.

The Irish Football Association fought hard to prevent players in Northern Ireland pledging allegiance to the Republic but their battles ended in defeat.

This remains an emotive issue for many but in my view it should never spark anger or bitterness among Northern Ireland fans.

I would even argue that the eligibility issue could be one of the best things ever to happen to Northern Ireland.

It was a massive wake-up call to the Irish FA who must create an inclusive welcoming environment for any young player.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion on the eligibility issue but why didn't we just care about the wellbeing of the player?

They have a choice which must be respected but Northern Ireland coaches will be raising their game like never before and their work should allay fears more players will want to head south.

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