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McGuinness calls for united Ireland team

Martin McGuinness has reiterated his desire for an all-Ireland international football team after visiting the home of the Northern Ireland side for the first time in almost 50 years.

Stormont's deputy first minister was at Windsor Park in Belfast to watch the Setanta Cup game between Derry City and hosts Linfield.

The Sinn Fein veteran's attendance at a stadium with a history of sectarian problems represented another landmark in improving cross-community relations in Northern Ireland.

Former IRA commander McGuinness, who last visited Windsor Park in 1964 before the Troubles began, said the warm welcome he received was a sign of changed times.

Windsor Park is the home of Linfield and the Northern Ireland team play their international matches there, but many nationalists who live north of the border choose to support the Ireland.

Derry City compete in Ireland's domestic league, having left Northern Ireland's top division during the Troubles.

The deputy first minister has indicated he would be willing to attend a Northern Ireland game in the future but he stressed his hope that Ireland would one day be represented by one team, with one main league in the island.

"Monday night's game was my first time at Windsor Park since the early sixties," he said. "I have very fond memories of travelling on a train from Derry with my late father and brother Paul to see Derry take on Glentoran.

"It was a very pleasant experience to be there last night and I want to pay tribute to the board of Linfield and everyone associated with the club for the very warm welcome that I received, and it's very clearly a sign of the changing times.

"I think we should do everything possible to take the politics out of sport. Talking as a sports fan, it is my very strong view that soccer on the island would be much better served if we had an all-Ireland league and one international team. But that is a matter for the footballing authorities. That's only my opinion as a true sports fan."

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