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Former Republic of Ireland player Alan Kernaghan is 'home' at last to coach Northern Ireland kids

By Steven Beacom

Published 15/04/2015

Alan Kernaghan played for the Republic in a World Cup after finding he was ineligible to turn out for Northern Ireland
Alan Kernaghan played for the Republic in a World Cup after finding he was ineligible to turn out for Northern Ireland

Former Republic of Ireland World Cup star Alan Kernaghan has become part of the Irish FA's coaching team.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the ex-Manchester City and Middlesbrough defender will work on a temporary basis in the youth set-up alongside the IFA's Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton.

It is a move designed to help Northern Ireland's gifted youngsters with Kernaghan giving them the benefit of his experience at club and international level.

When under-16 and 17 coach Stephen Robinson became the Motherwell assistant manager in February, the IFA needed to fill the gap and have looked towards Kernaghan to help the most talented teenagers in the country.

He joins Windsor Park heroes David Healy and Stephen Craigan in the coaching ranks at Northern Ireland youth level, so he is in good company.

Kernaghan, 47, will no doubt appreciate the irony of his new role.

He was a Northern Ireland under-15 international himself, though eventually ended up as a hero for the Republic.

Kernaghan's story is a fascinating one.

Born in Leeds in England, Kernaghan was a young boy when his family moved to Northern Ireland, where his dad's family were from.

He became a fully fledged Bangor boy and a huge Northern Ireland fan, going to Windsor to watch all the qualifying games for the 1982 World Cup. He was even a ball boy at one match.

His dream was to follow in the footsteps of Gerry Armstrong, Billy Hamilton and Norman Whiteside and it looked on the cards when he was selected for the schoolboy team before Middlesbrough offered him the chance to become a professional.

Unfortunately for Kernaghan, it wasn't to be. The IFA, despite having earmarked him as a star of the future, realised he wasn't eligible.

At that time the player or his parents had to be born in Northern Ireland for them to qualify. The IFA did not recognise the grandparent rule, so just as the player was anticipating an international career with the country he saw as home, the IFA informed him his hopes had been dashed. Kernaghan couldn't believe it and his dad even rang up to argue with IFA officials in a bid for them to change their mind.

"I'd played for Northern Ireland schoolboys and had hoped to take the next step and go on to play for the senior team but then the IFA found that I wasn't eligible. It was a shock," he recalled in an interview with this newspaper some time ago.

With Kernaghan impressing at Middlesbrough, so much so that he earned a £1.6 million move to Manchester City, the Republic of Ireland came calling completely out of the blue in 1992.

Jack Charlton was their boss and he was renowned for using the grandparent rule to his advantage. With the FAI happy to select players from both sides of the border under the grandparent rule, Charlton made his move.

"I was approached by the Republic and professional football is such a short career that I took the opportunity to play international football," said Kernaghan.

"It was a strange situation to be in. I tried for so long to get playing for Northern Ireland but it never came off. Then all of a sudden I was playing for the Republic of Ireland."

And soon he was playing AGAINST Northern Ireland in an infamous World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park, where he was booed by home fans every time he touched the ball. The Republic made it to the 1994 World Cup. Kernaghan, who went on to win 22 caps, was in the squad.

He would go on to play for a host of clubs in Scotland and manage Clyde and Dundee before taking up a youth coaching role at Rangers. He was also caretaker manager at Brentford for a short spell in 2013. Now you could say he has come 'home' to help schoolboys achieve what he never did and set them on the path to play for Northern Ireland at the highest level.

Belfast Telegraph

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