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Man Utd star: blame IFA for my defection to Republic

An Ulster soccer star last night broke his silence about being caught in an international tug of war between the Irish FA and the Football Association of Ireland.

Young Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson could make his competitive debut for the Republic in tonight's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Slovakia - although both he and his parents were born and reared in Northern Ireland.

The IFA have made representations to football's world governing body FIFA in a bid to stop the Derryman turning out for Steve Staunton's team, citing his ineligibility.

But, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, the 19-year-old stressed that he simply does not want to play for Northern Ireland - and said the IFA was to blame.

"I'm a Republic of Ireland player until I get told otherwise," he said.

"As far as I'm concerned, I won't be playing for Northern Ireland."

He added: "It should be my decision. I don't see why there is a problem, or why people have to make such a big deal out of it."

The situation is being seen my many as a test case which could set precedents for other players turning out for countries they weren't born in and have no direct family ties with.

This has always been a grey area in Northern Ireland football, where players can carry both British and Irish passports.

Problems between Gibson and the IFA arose several years ago when the player withdrew from Northern Ireland's Victory Shield squad to take a trial at Old Trafford.

He believes the Association then punished him by leaving him out of the squad on his return.

"The reason I am down here in the first place is because I got put out of the squad, and there was an opportunity to play for the Republic," he added.

"It's the IFA's fault. I thought it was wrong of them to put me out of the squad just because I went for a trial. It's their loss."

Earlier this week, Gibson's best mate Jonny Evans, the Northern Ireland defender, publicly backed his United colleague's decision not to make himself available for Nigel Worthington's team.

"It's good to hear him come out and support me, although I'm not surprised. We've discussed the situation many times," he said.

IFA chief executive Howard Wells confirmed that the decision lay with football's world governing body.

" We have asked FIFA to define eligibility as regards to Northern Ireland and the Republic," said Mr Wells.

"The matter rests with them. It's not an issue to do with Darron Gibson, it's to do with eligibility. We would like to depersonalise this."

New Northern Ireland manager Worthington, however, claimed that he doesn't think Gibson will take to the field for the Republic tonight.

"If he plays and FIFA deem that he isn't eligible then they (the Republic) could be punished - and they wouldn't risk losing points when the decision could still go against them," he said.

Belfast Telegraph