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O'Neill surprised by McAlinden choice

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill admits he is surprised Wolves teenager Liam McAlinden has chosen to turn his back on the Irish Football Association.

The 19-year-old turned down a call-up for Northern Ireland's Under-21s last week having informed the IFA he wished to play for Ireland.

But McAlinden had played for Northern Ireland at age-group level and joins a number of young players who have taken advantage of a FIFA ruling that allows players affiliated to the north to declare for either side.

O'Neill has made it a priority of his reign to stop the player drain that saw the likes of Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson, Shane Duffy and James McClean opt for Ireland instead of Northern Ireland during Nigel Worthington's tenure, but McAlinden's decision is a setback.

O'Neill told BBC Radio Ulster: "It was one which came as a little bit of a surprise to us.

"He has a good relationship with Stephen Robinson, our Under-21 coach.

"I met Liam personally on a couple of occasions and we met with him hoping that might persuade him to stay with Northern Ireland, but he has decided to stick by his decision.

"I think for family reasons he maybe felt a greater sway to play for the Republic of Ireland. He mentioned that when we did have a meeting with him.

"I believe he would certainly have a greater chance to play for us at senior level in the near future than he will do with the Republic of Ireland, but ultimately the decision lies with the player."

Middlesbrough's Jordan Jones and Swansea striker Rory Donnelly have also informed the IFA they do not wish to be considered for selection for the time being, but neither has openly declared for a rival association.

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