Belfast Telegraph

'It's the player's choice': Martin O'Neill responds to Northern Ireland boss Michael's 'Catholic' comments

Martin O'Neill has responded to his namesake Michael's assertion that the Republic of Ireland manager only targets Catholic players in Northern Ireland.

Michael O'Neill took aim at the FAI for targeting players from a nationalist background to switch allegiances in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail this week.

Former Shamrock Rovers boss O'Neill said he would speak to Martin O'Neill to try and come to some arrangement to halt the practice of young Northern Ireland players declaring for the Republic. The Northern Ireland-born quintet of James McClean, Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and Eunan O'Kane are currently vital members of the team south of the border.

Speaking on Thursday after naming a 30-man provisional squad to face Turkey later this month, Martin O'Neill said: "Obviously I have a problem with the unexpected nature of the comments.

"I think Michael has admitted this...I haven't even taken a player away from him at senior level. I've no problem having a discussion."

When asked about the gentlemen's agreement, Martin O'Neill said there have been numerous meetings recently when that chance arose.

"Funnily enough I did meet him at a game quite recently, we were watching Fulham play," added the RoI boss.

"We had a very convivial conversation and he never mentioned these particular points. I wish he had done. It came as a surprise. I've had a conversation with him since.

"He's admitted I've not taken a senior player from him. Quite the opposite. He's taken Alex Bruce during my time here. I've not taken a senior player off him at all.

"I've no problem having a discussion about underage level. But to bring religion into it, that's something you'd have to ask Michael about.

"I played for Northern Ireland 60 odd times and was captain loads of times, and I think one of the most successful periods where you had Catholics and Protestants playing from both sides of the religious divide.

"Those things have to remembered. Very disappointing. I think the most important issue here is that I've never chosen a player on anything other than merit. But two, really really important. It is down to the player. It is the player's choice and that's something I've always abided by."


From Belfast Telegraph