Belfast Telegraph

Duffy will not be last to say no to Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

It was breaking news yesterday to everyone except Nigel Worthington.

Shane Duffy has expressed a desire to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland.

He’s not the first and he won’t be the last.

Northern Ireland fans may brace themselves for more disappointing news.

You have to feel Worthington’s pain — there aren’t enough George Bests coming off the production line but there is also no point in moaning like a drain, Arsene Wenger style.

Memo to Duffy: you have made your decision, we respect it, now good luck in the rest of your career — unless of course you come up against Northern Ireland!

There can be no greater honour in football than being selected to represent your country as that is usually where your home and heart lies.

But if Duffy’s heart is elsewhere then there is nothing anyone else can do about it.

Yes it’s frustrating but Northern Ireland have lost the eligibility war with the Republic and FIFA are unlikely to backtrack.

Sepp Blatter and co. are not easily won over, as the Republic discovered when Thierry Henry reminded everyone how he began his career with the Boston Celtics.

Before Everton starlet Duffy, came Darron Gibson at Manchester United and Marc Wilson at Portsmouth.

Duffy played for Northern Ireland at every youth level including the under-21s, Gibson played for Northern Ireland at underage level and Wilson played for Northern Ireland at under-15 and 17 level.

It’s not all doom and gloom though as Michael O’Connor has kept hold of his Northern Ireland jersey.

Duffy’s decision is a shattering blow to Worthington as his undoubted talent was showcased in the Europa League with the Toffees.

But it’s also a huge setback to the coaches who worked with Duffy and nurtured his talent, providing constant encouragement and advice.

That’s where the unfairness of the FIFA rule comes into play.

What is the point in developing or investing in young talent if they can jump ship at a moment’s notice?

Duffy was on the bench for Northern Ireland's friendly against Pisa last June and Worthington had hoped to include him in the squad to face Albania.

The 18-year-old Londonderry ace was treated well by coaches in Northern Ireland, but like Gibson, you can lead a horse to water...

The moment FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived in Newcastle to show who was boss in March, 2009, the grim writing was on the wall.

Blatter said that if a player from the north had an Irish passport he could choose to play for the Republic.

Then IFA chief executive Howard Wells fought hard to scrub that writing off the wall but failed.

The player eligibility war was over.

The Irish FA will now look at legal options but life, as we all know, is unfair.

Investment in young players will go on and others will choose to wriggle out of the net. Good luck to them.

I would like to think that any Northern Ireland supporter would only want to watch players who want to play for their country.

It’s those players who give 100 per cent to the cause and raise their game to sufficient levels to trouble the likes of England and Spain.

Northern Ireland cannot afford to carry passengers who are dreaming of wearing the colours of another national team.

Let players chase money if they want to; let players chase countries if they want to.

Why would we want anyone to do something against their will?

I’m all for freedom of choice and expression.

Does anyone doubt goalkeeper Maik Taylor’s commitment to the Northern Ireland cause even though he was born in Hildesheim, Germany?

Are we going to elbow Burnley striker Martin Paterson into touch because he was born in Tunstall, England?

This rule will continue to hurt Northern Ireland because if there’s one thing we are lacking, it’s strength in depth.

But all fans want to see is pride and passion from the privileged 11 who start a game — at club or international level — as they would dearly love the opportunity to wear the jersey themselves.

If Duffy doesn’t feel that way then good luck to him.

It’s time to move on and leave the uncommitted behind, with no lingering bitterness whatsoever.

Belfast Telegraph


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