Belfast Telegraph

Back off our players, IFA warn English

By Stuart McKinley

The Irish FA is now fighting with England as well as the Republic of Ireland to keep promising Northern Ireland stars on-board.

In the case of one particular player, however, it’s a fight that the IFA can’t lose.

The on-going eligibility row with the Football Association of Ireland, who claim that northern-born players are fair game and qualify by birth to represent the Republic of Ireland, is heading for the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the coming months after the IFA’s frustration over FIFA’s failure to make a satisfactory decision over the issue reached breaking point.

Now battle lines have been drawn with the English FA over two young players who, despite being born in England, have now declared for Northern Ireland.

Eighteen-year-old Manchester United youngster Oliver Norwood qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his father, while Watford’s Lee Hodson — a 19-year-old who has played 26 times in the first-team this season — has a Belfast-born grandparent.

The pair have represented Northern Ireland at both under-19 and under-21 level over the last 18 months and manager Steve Beaglehole has issued a strong ‘hands-off’ warning to the English.

“England have gone after Oliver Norwood trying to get him back and they’ve approached Lee Hodson looking for him to play for them as well,” revealed Beaglehole. “When we found out Norwood was eligible for us we were told that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed his experience with England, so we made our approach.

“Lee Hodson has never been involved with any England squad at any age. He’s been ignored and has been very proud to play for Northern Ireland.

“Both lads have come and played for us, been made to feel very welcome and have enjoyed it.

“It’s only now that England are looking for them after seeing that they are very capable players at international level.”

Norwood, however, is now tied to Northern Ireland, ironically because of his previous appearances for England at under-16 and under-17 level.

FIFA rules allow a player who qualifies for another country to switch provided they haven’t won a full international cap at senior level — in the way that Shane Duffy has done after playing for Northern Ireland all the way up to under-21 level. Once that switch is made, however, it is permanent as FIFA permit only one change and Norwood now can’t play for England, even if he wanted to.

Hodson has never represented England at any level and therefore could apply to change, but in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph back in November last year he insisted that he had no interest in playing for the country of his birth and is now driven by a desire to make it to full international level with Northern Ireland and play at Windsor park.

Beaglehole has also blasted the Republic of Ireland’s approach to their head-hunting of players who have represented Northern Ireland amid fears that another player is about to jump ship and head south of the border.

Gateshead-born Carl Magnay was first called up by Beaglehole for an under-21 friendly against Scotland in November 2008, but after an approach by England he stalled before finally making his debut against Portugal in August last year. That, however, looks like being the only time he will ever play for Northern Ireland after he withdrew from the last squad via a text message, but it is understood that he now wishes to play for the Republic instead.

“Carl told me he didn’t have the passion to play for Northern Ireland that he would if it was England,” said Beaglehole.

“I asked him if he’d been approached by the Republic, but he denied that and I’ll be very angry if that’s where he ends up.

“The Republic don’t go for these lads when they are 16, it’s only when they’ve played for us and they see that they’re good enough they go after them and it makes everyone angry.”

Belfast Telegraph

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