I longed to play for Northern Ireland, says former Republic star Kernaghan
Alan Kernaghan grew up in Bangor, played for Northern Ireland schoolboys and would have loved to play for the full international side.
But it wasn’t to be.
Kernaghan lived in Bangor from the age of six but when it was discovered he had been born in Leeds to English parents — although his father’s parents were from Northern Ireland — the IFA declared him ineligible for the senior side.
It wasn’t long before the Republic came calling.
Ironically Kernaghan was a regular at Windsor Park to watch Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland team surge towards the 1982 World Cup.
The former £1.6m Manchester City defender can laugh about it all now, but admits he was heartbroken at the time.
“I’d played for Northern Ireland schoolboys and had always hoped to take the next step go on and play for the senior team but then the IFA found that I wasn’t eligible. It was a shock,” he recalls.
“I spoke to the IFA to try to find some way forward but it was just a ‘no’.
“But then out of the blue I was approached by the Republic and professional football is such a short career that I took the opportunity to play international football.
“Let’s face it — you want to play for somebody that actually wants you.
“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.
“So it worked out okay in the end in that I got to go to the 1994 World Cup and be involved with fantastic players in a successful team,” he said.
Kernaghan is impressed with the current Northern Ireland team that only just missed out on a place at next summer’s World Cup Finals in South Africa.
“Northern Ireland are punching above their weight, especially when you look at it in terms of population.
“Northern Ireland have been doing well and that’s reflected in higher expectations which mean that a defeat can be over analysed and be a bigger disappointment than it really should be,” he said.
“The Northern Ireland team have been getting good results and almost made it through what was a tough World Cup qualifying group.
“Things are very positive for Northern Ireland at the moment right the way through, from the senior team down. Things are strong throughout the set-up.
“I’ve watched the Northern Ireland underage teams on television and they play some great football.
“A few of my lads at Rangers have played against them and said they were a very good side,” said the Ibrox youth team coach.