Belfast Telegraph

'The best' should play for Northern Ireland says U105's Frank Mitchell - Sinn Fein's O Donnghaile says all-Ireland team the solution

O Donnghaile said that an all-Ireland team was the 'best solution'

By Gareth Cross

Broadcaster Frank Mitchell says the best footballers in Northern Ireland should play for the country, regardless of religion or cultural background as his row with Sinn Fein over international selection continued.

The U105 presenter was speaking after Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill claimed the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was only approaching players from a nationalist background. A claim dismissed by the Republic manager Martin O'Neill.

On Monday morning, Mr Mitchell nailed his colours to the mast during a debate on his radio show.

"I support Northern Ireland and have no interest in being impartial when it comes to Northern Ireland... I only want the best for Northern Ireland" he told his listeners.

Former All-Ireland winning GAA star, Mr Mitchell also said how in the past the national stadium at Windsor Park was a "cold place for someone from a Catholic background".

"I saw chanting and was disgusted but I loved the football and still went," he said.

"There has been an amazing amount of award-winning progress made to make it a family occasion and encourage people to come."

Mr Mitchell ignited a war of words after he urged teenage stars to declare for Northern Ireland rather than the Republic.

Former Sinn Fein senator O Donnghaile claimed the broadcaster had adopted "a partisan position running contrary to the Good Friday Agreement," in a tweet over the weekend.

After clashes on Twitter the pair went head-to-head on Mr Mitchell's show on Monday to thrash out the issue.

Former Belfast Lord Mayor O Donnghaile said young players should be free to choose which team they play for. He acknowledged as legitimate concerns about Northern Ireland youth players later going on to play for the Republic.

"I would encourage them to play for who you want to play for, feel most comfortable with and which reflects you and represents you and you in turn can appropriately represent them on the international field," O Donnghaile said.

"Look at the horrible sectarianism inflicted on people choosing to play for Ireland 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

"It shouldn't be an issue, that's why so many people were surprised, shocked and offended by Michael O'Neill's comments last week."

Pointing to the recent success of the Irish rugby team, the politician said it was time for football to follow and for an all-Ireland team.

Frank Mitchell said players were free to choose which team they play for, but as a fan he wanted the best players for Northern Ireland.

"At no point would I suggest it wouldn't be appropriate for players from Northern Ireland to play for the Republic of Ireland, I am just issuing the warmest of invitations for youngsters to play for the team I support," he said.

"For a considerable number of years I went to Windsor Park and it was a cold place for someone from a Catholic or GAA background.

"I saw chanting and was disgusted but I loved the football and still went.

"There has been an amazing amount of award winning progress made to make it a family occasion and encourage people to come."

Mr O Donnghaile said he felt the "best solution" would be for an all-Ireland football team.

"Ireland works best when it works together as proved on the rugby pitch," he said.

"The FAI should also recruit in the north at the earliest possible level to stop the kind of hostility and legitimate frustration from coaches in the IFA, if the FAI were to organise this it would solve an awful lot of the problems at the earliest point.

"There have been moves made at Windsor Park but it is still a cold place for some. There is still work to do. It not a warm house for James McClean or supporters of the Irish squad with chants about the RAF, Kyle Lafferty playing the flute and hating James McClean."

Mr Mitchell asked Mr O Donnghaile if playing for Northern Ireland made Paddy McCourt or Niall McGinn any less Irish.

"I've met Niall McGinn and that's not my view. That's their decision they made the choice best suited for them at the time and I'm sure what they thought was best suited for their careers.

"Other people take a different view and want to go a different way and equally that should be accepted.

"They shouldn't be subjected to Michael O'Neill's comments. They were ill-tempered and poorly considered."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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