Former Irish FA president Jim Boyce has sent a clear message to the young Northern Ireland players thinking about declaring for the Republic of Ireland, stating: “Don't do it”.
Boyce has been dismayed to see several players who turned out for Northern Ireland youth teams recently decide to switch allegiance and go south.
The situation has infuriated the Green and White Army who believe the FAI are taking advantage of the Good Friday Agreement and poaching gifted youngsters from the IFA.
Boyce is aware of the political element in this issue and that young Catholics who have grown up supporting the Republic may want to go down that road, but suggests looking at it from a pure footballing point of view it is the wrong route to take.
He said: “I’m very sad to see so many players switching allegiance. With the situation in the country now I don’t feel young players have any reason, if they are born in Northern Ireland, for not wanting to play for the country of their birth.
“All of these players leaving Northern Ireland are not going to get on the Republic of Ireland team because they have a lot more to choose from than ourselves, yet with us they would be regulars, which is surely better for them than being bit-part players.”
On the current manager Nigel Worthington, who has been taking stick from the fans after a wretched run of form, Boyce says: “The team is rebuilding again under Nigel and we need every player we can get. Before that we had Lawrie Sanchez who did a wonderful job for Northern Ireland. Remember we had gone 14 games without a win and something similar without scoring a goal when he came in. He brought some happy times back to the country.”
An unhappy time for Boyce came when he was stabbed in the back by people he saw as friends leading to his departure as IFA president. Raymond Kennedy took his place and a host of negative headlines followed. Jim Shaw has since taken over with the association attempting to get back on an even keel.
“I’ve been saddened by some of the publicity that has occurred in the last few years,” says Boyce.
“Obviously I was hurt when I wasn’t retained as IFA president, especially because no-one said to me that they wanted a new man in. I still don’t know the reasons why. I would have gone willingly had I known.
Boyce's other sporting love is cricket.
“I was fortunate in my playing days to be captain of Ballymena Cricket Club and when I was captain we went from Section Three to Section One,” he recalls.
“As far as I’m aware we are still the only team from the Northern Cricket Union to reach a Senior Cup final as a Section Three team.
“It was a great honour to be PRO for the Irish Cricket Union and Northern Cricket Union and in 1986 I was asked to be chairman of the NCU in their centenary year.
“As I moved up the football ranks, I had to leave the cricket behind, but I still love the sport.”