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Fears grow of exodus of Northern Ireland players to Republic

Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Steve Beaglehole has warned the Republic of Ireland's qualification for Euro 2012 could tempt some of his young players to switch their international allegiance.

A controversial FIFA ruling exists that allows players born in Northern Ireland to declare for the Republic regardless of blood ties, and a handful of players have taken advantage of it despite spending time in the Irish Football Association's youth set-up.

The likes of James McClean, Dan Devine, Shane Duffy, Daniel Kearns and Paul George have all accepted age-group calls for Northern Ireland only to pledge their senior future to the Football Association of Ireland, though Newcastle defender Shane Ferguson is back in the fold after rumours suggested he was considering a similar move.

Beaglehole, whose contract is up at the end of the year, admits he is concerned the qualifying success under Giovanni Trapattoni could exacerbate that problem and has called for the game's governing body to set a fixed compensation fee for players who switch.

"I think the Republic's qualification could make things a lot harder," he told Press Association Sport.

"The FAI are spending more money on recruitment, on scouting, they go away three or four days earlier than we do when they meet up and they put them in top hotels.

"Now they will have even more money and their budget will go up again. Northern Ireland not qualifying means our budget remains the same or even goes down.

"For them that can mean extra training days or a couple of new members of staff. And in terms of the attractiveness of playing for the Republic, it's something their recruitment people can use.

"They can say 'look at at us. look at the success we've had'. It's like the academy system in club football: if your first team is doing well it's easier to keep people and get others to come."

Beaglehole admits he would be tempted to cast an eye over the best Northern Ireland-born youngsters if he was involved with their neighbours, but feels that whenever a player does cross over there should be a commensurate payment made to the rival association.

"I don't blame the Republic for wanting to look at Paul George or Shane Duffy. If I was working for them I would want to because they would improve the team," he said.

"The thing I can't understand is that there is no compensation. When they are getting richer and richer and we're getting poorer it would be nice to get a set figure for someone like that who has had three or four years with us.

"It works that way in club football. At my club Leicester, if we lost a player to a Manchester City we would get paid and we'd plough that back in to the youth system.

"Of course you want the best players but you should have to pay for them."

Belfast Telegraph