Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Northern Ireland anger as Republic picks Celtic's Paul George

County Down-born Paul George has elected to play for the Republic of Ireland

Irish Football Association President Jim Shaw last night insisted that a new route must be found to prevent the Republic of Ireland from freely selecting Northern Ireland-born players.

The IFA lost out in a case taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport last summer when they challenged Fifa’s stance on the eligibility wrangle in Ireland.

The world governing body gave the FAI the green light to cherry pick players born in Northern Ireland, despite Fifa’s own statutes dictating that either a player himself, one of his parents or a grandparent must be born on the ‘territory of the relevant association’ in order to play for that country.

And now, after County Down-born Paul George became the latest player to declare for the Republic despite previously representing Northern Ireland, the row is set to open up again.

“The Irish FA have taken the eligibility issue seriously enough for us to go all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” said Shaw.

“They came down on the side of the FAI and my understanding is that they are the final arbiters.

“If we are to get that decision overturned we’ll have to come up with another route, but it certainly doesn’t help the case for us getting the best players playing for Northern Ireland.

“We’re a small nation that is doing its best at grassroots level to improve our players, but it’s hard when you get the rug pulled from under you.”

The north v south tug-of-war over Celtic midfielder George, from Killough, has been on-going for the last six months. The Republic had claimed victory, but even after that Northern Ireland under-17 manager Paul Kee refused to give up.

Kee had been doing his utmost to keep hold of George since he turned out in two friendlies against Slovakia last September.

Ultimately though he was fighting a losing battle and those two games last autumn will be the 17-year-old’s last in a Northern Ireland shirt.

“Unfortunately we are vulnerable to losing players in this way,” said Kee.

“There isn’t a lot that we can do about it other than try to make players feel wanted and feel part of our set-up.

“Some from nationalist backgrounds will feel an affiliation with the Republic and I believe it was a family decision for Paul.

“If we start to lose four or five players a year it becomes a problem, but I don’t think we will.”

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