Belfast Telegraph

Republic set their sights on expanding eligible player pool

By Daniel McDonnell

In the sphere of international football, there can be no such thing as a chequebook manager.

When family trees are studied and potential targets are identified, the success or failure of the recruitment drive is often determined by the powers of persuasion and personality.

But, ultimately, it comes down to desire and, for youngsters torn between nations, an encouraging word in the ear from a recognisable figure can help to sway the decision.

It is natural to draw the conclusion that the appointment of Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane will considerably strengthen the FAI's hand in the matter.

That is certainly the view of Noel King anyway, with the U-21 manager restored to his day job – after picking the first senior squad of the new era while the formalities of appointing the new pair were completed.

"I'll give Martin a very honest view of my feelings on the players," says the Dubliner. "You can't do that in the public domain. As a manager, he'll want to know who has done well and who hasn't done well (during King's brief caretaker stint).

"It's up to him to then take that information and use it or not use it as he sees fit. That's just normal football talk and how much value it is to him, you never know."

Another matter to discuss is King's progress with players that he is attempting to draft in.

"I saw one lad on Saturday who was fantastic," he says, teasing his audience. "And he's eligible for the next campaign. I'll tell you next week (who he is) as I have to contact him."

On Saturday, O'Neill acknowledged that exploring players who qualify through the grandparent rule was on his radar, referencing the success that Jack Charlton had in that department.

"It didn't do Jack any harm at all," he said. "I will have a look at it to see. You wouldn't really want to be picking someone who was tenuous, but I think the rules now are more clear than perhaps they were in Jack's time. It's something I would certainly look at."

The FAI could still make a move for the likes of Curtis Davies (Hull), Kyle Naughton (Spurs) and Connor Wickham (Sunderland), although there are nuances in each case. King also mentioned viable U-21 options such as Chelsea's Patrick Bamford and Manchester United's Will Keane.

Recruiting players from Northern Ireland is a slightly more delicate issue for O'Neill and he chose his words carefully at his unveiling, while asserting that it was ultimately the player's choice.

The FAI are happy to pursue anyone who meets the criteria, with King still awaiting clearance for Wolves' Liam McAlinden – who is English-born but lined out under the IFA at youth level.

Liverpool's highly-rated Belfast youngster Ryan McLaughlin is concentrating on the club game for the moment, with a tug-of-war anticipated.

It's the prospect of finding hidden gems that keeps King and the rest of the underage managers busy. "There are a load of lads out there, even unbeknownst to themselves, who would qualify for us," stresses King.

A call from household names that everybody in football knows would accelerate the process.

Belfast Telegraph


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