Belfast Telegraph

IFA announce Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland at Aviva Stadium but Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill's men will play behind closed doors

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have joined forces in their quest to reach the Euro 2016 finals by organising a game on June 4 in Dublin to help prepare for crucial qualifiers.

That’s the good news... the bad news is YOU won’t be allowed to see it and WE won’t be allowed to report on it.

In a bizarre move yesterday  the IFA announced that Michael O’Neill’s men will meet Martin O’Neill’s team at the Aviva Stadium...only to add that it will be a behind closed doors training match with fans and media barred from entering the ground.

 So much then for witnessing an eagerly awaited and intriguing O’Neill v O’Neill clash.

The ‘training exercise’ takes place ahead of vital Euro 2016 qualifiers on June 13 when Northern Ireland host Romania and Scotland visit the Republic, who are also due to host England in a high-security friendly on June 7.

Both Michael and Martin insisted that the derby ‘match’ will be mutually beneficial to the teams.

No caps will be awarded, however, as the training match will NOT constitute an official friendly international, as it is intended to give both managers the flexibility required for training purposes.

Effectively that means when the need takes them the two managers will be able to stop the game to change systems and/or personnel.

Four days earlier Northern Ireland have an official friendly against Qatar in Crewe on May 31. Michael O'Neill had been banking on playing Wales in another build up game for the Windsor Park showdown with Romania, but when the Welsh pulled out, he looked even closer to home and found his namesake agreeable to the get together.

It is football's version of cross border co-operation and is evidence of the strong bond which exists between the Northern Ireland and Republic bosses, who earlier this year at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards spent the night talking football together before presenting goalscoring hero David Healy with his Hall of Fame award.

It makes a difference from the strained relationships between the IFA and FAI in the recent past when the former were fuming with the latter's stance over making moves for Northern Ireland-born players schooled by the IFA .

Northern Ireland's boss said: "It was important for us to get a quality game before the qualifier against Romania and this provides the perfect scenario on the back of the Qatar friendly.

"Having the game behind closed doors will allow both myself and Martin flexibility which we wouldn't have under normal international circumstances and it will also help greatly in terms of our preparations for the important qualifier against Romania."

Republic countepart O'Neill, famously Northern Ireland's skipper in the 1982 World Cup finals, added: "With the season ending early for a lot of our players, Michael and I discussed it and see this as a mutually beneficial exercise for both sides. Holding the match behind closed doors will give us the flexibility to make any changes we see fit ahead of the European qualifiers on June 13.

"The championship season ends on May 2 and if players are not involved in play-offs, that could be over a month without any games.  It represents an ideal opportunity to build the intensity of our preparations, leading into the England friendly, and before the important qualifier against Scotland."

While the June 13 qualifiers will be huge, there will also be much public interest when England come to Dublin for the first time since 1995, when a friendly was abandoned because of rioting English fans at Lansdowne Road.

The last time the two Irish national sides met was in 2011 when the Republic won 5-0 in the Carling Nations Cup. The previous meeting was in 1999 in Dublin when Northern Ireland won 1-0.

Belfast Telegraph


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