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Northern Ireland selection dispute has its roots in Partition

By Stuart McKinley

Sixty years after Northern Ireland stopped selecting players born in the Republic of Ireland, the Irish FA have stepped up their attempts to put an end to the reverse occurring.

The north-south eligibility wrangle that has its roots in the 1920s has been brought to a head by the IFA following their decision to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The Partition of Ireland also brought about a split in football, with the Football Association of the Irish Free State admitted to FIFA in 1923, and 87 years on that split between the two associations has never been deeper.

The IFA finally lost patience on Monday when Shane Duffy — a player who had represented Northern Ireland at every level of the game up to B international — decided to switch allegiance to the Republic.

There is no doubt that he qualifies to represent the FAI through his Letterkenny-born father, but IFA chiefs — and international manager Nigel Worthington — are angered that after grooming the player, he has now jumped ship.

The Republic of Ireland insist that they are perfectly entitled to select players who have been born in Northern Ireland and who hold Irish Passports.

Londonderry-born Darron Gibson (inset) is the prime example, having turned his back on Northern Ireland after playing as a schoolboy international.

He has won eight senior caps in the green of the Republic, yet the Irish FA in Belfast have continually claimed for the last four years that he isn’t eligible as neither he nor his parents or grandparents were born in the Republic.

It’s not the first time that the IFA and FAI have clashed over the selection of players.

Northern Ireland continued to select players born across the island even after partition and on many occasions players were turning out for both Ireland teams — even just a couple of days apart.

Famously Manchester United’s Dublin-born Johnny Carey captained both countries while winning seven caps with Northern Ireland between 1947 and 1949.

The FAI, too, selected Northern Ireland-born players and when Dublin-born goalkeeper Tom Farquharson first played for the FAI in 1929 he’d already appeared seven times for the Northern team — although both played under the name ‘Ireland’ for some time.

In 1937 two Belfast men, Davy Jordan and Jackie Brown, from the Protestant Castlereagh Road, were the goalscorers as the Republic of Ireland beat France 2-0 in Paris.

The FAI stopped picking Northern players in 1946 and it was only in 1950, when the FAI complained to FIFA, that the IFA ended their selection of players born South of the border.

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