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Republic U21 boss hits back at Northern Ireland's O'Neill in poaching row

By Daniel McDonnell

Republic of Ireland U21 boss Noel King has hit back at Michael O'Neill's criticism of the FAI in the latest row over the principle of players switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic.

Northern Ireland manager O'Neill described the actions of the FAI as "morally poor" after Derry brothers Aaron and Jordan McEneff indicated a preference to move south.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss claimed that the FAI approached the players, whereas King maintains that the McEneffs' father, who hails from Dublin, made the first move.

Asked for his response to O'Neill's criticism, former Derry City boss King rapped back: "The rules are the rules. Listen, we don't deal with politics, we deal with the facts of Fifa. The facts of Fifa are what we obey.

"We also listen to the player, the player has the freedom to choose, it's straightforward.

"If I get an indication that a player wants to come to us and wants me to give him a ring, and I get word that he wants me to give him a ring, it's a possibility that I will do that.

"But each case is very different."

King went on to claim: “There are a load of players who have played for the Republic, I’ll repeat that, who now play for Northern Ireland. You never hear us complaining.”

O’Neill and the IFA would dispute that assertion.

With regards to O’Neill’s “morally poor” label, King replied: “I don’t know what that means. Your morals and my morals might be different. So that means nothing then, does it? It could mean everything.

“I would have spoken to Aaron McEneff, definitely yes,” continued King, denying that the first contact came from the FAI and suggesting that McEneff’s camp got in touch with him.

“Aaron did indicate that he wanted to come and join us. I spoke to Aaron, I spoke to his family, it didn’t come across the line after long discussions. What was best for Aaron and what Aaron’s family thought was best for him, he did.

“I supported that. I can’t understand how Michael O’Neill doesn’t know he has a player in Aaron McEneff. The fact is he is a Northern Ireland player. Does he not know that, Michael? Will he play for the Northern Ireland senior team?

“Look at every country in European football — they all bring in players from different countries. Those are the rules of the competition.

“If you always stick with the idea that the player does what he wants to do — the player talks to his family and they together will decide, they will talk to whichever association they want to talk to, and they will do that. Some players will then make a change. Those are the laws. I don’t understand why there is a big deal about it.

“Maybe someone is trying to deflect attention from something else. Our stance has always been that it is player first. And any parent will put their child first and want the best for their child. That’s the reality.”

In the event, the older McEneff brother Aaron — who plays for Derry City and has represented Northern Ireland at U21 level — remains available to the IFA because discussions with the FAI did not lead to the paperwork going through.

Essentially, because of his age, the next move will be determined by whether the 21-year-old is wanted by either country at senior level.

However, well regarded Arsenal youth Jordan McEneff has made his debut for the Republic of Ireland at U16 level having been involved with Northern Ireland from the age of 11.

The IFA have been frustrated by the FAI’s interpretation of the Good Friday Agreement, supported by Fifa, which means any player born north of the border can opt to throw in his lot with the Republic. James McClean, Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy are high profile examples and King insisted that the FAI are doing nothing wrong.

King was speaking at the announcement of his squad for the European qualifier with Kosovo on March 25, which includes Derry City’s Ronan Curtis.

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