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Northern Ireland v Republic in a Euro 2020 play-off should be a brilliant sporting event, says Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey


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Derby date: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could meet in the play-offs

Derby date: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could meet in the play-offs

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland line up at Aviva Stadium in 2018

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland line up at Aviva Stadium in 2018

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey

Derby date: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could meet in the play-offs

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey would welcome a Euro 2020 play-off final showdown between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park and would appeal to people to see it as a sporting event rather than anything else.

The Sinn Fein politician added that she would hope to be there if the all-island clash takes place later this month and would support the Republic.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Hargey added that whether it is that match or not, she wants to attend a Northern Ireland international at Windsor Park in the future, revealing that she would "show respect" for the national anthem, God Save The Queen.

For a Northern Ireland versus Republic of Ireland play-off final on March 31 to happen, Michael O'Neill's side will have to win their semi in Bosnia five days earlier, while Mick McCarthy's men need to triumph in Slovakia.

Given the volatile nature of past meetings between North and South, there are concerns relating to security and rivalry spilling over between fans, especially with so much at stake, but the former Mayor of Belfast doesn't see it that way.

Asked if the fixture could be more trouble than it is worth, Hargey said: "No. I think first and foremost it is sport so it is about bringing people together through the power of sport.

"I would attend that game if the invite was there, and if the game happened I think people have to see it as sport. People will have their own teams and that's fair enough.

"Really we would be going there to watch a good game of football. I'm sure the majority of fans would, and may the best team win."

We have to approach these things with maturity and respect but understanding that we come from different perspectives. I don't sign up to a monarchy but other people do and that's fine. It is to respect that difference Deirdre Hargey

Quizzed on who she would support, the Sports Minister declared: "I am an Ireland supporter but obviously in recent years in terms of what Northern Ireland have done in the Euros and the atmosphere surrounding the team, they are a good side and you would wave them on.

"Ireland are my own team and that's who I would support, but may the best team win."

Hargey admitted she would prefer an all-Ireland team, as is the case in rugby and hockey, but added: "That's not for me to decide. That has to be for the players and two Associations (IFA and FAI) in terms of the sport."

While previously a visitor to Windsor Park for IFA presentations, Hargey has never attended a Northern Ireland international at the stadium.

When Caral Ni Chuilin was the last Sinn Fein Sports Minister, she told the Belfast Telegraph in an interview shortly after being appointed that she would go to see Northern Ireland at Windsor Park but would not be there when the British national anthem was played.

In 2011, Ni Chuilin attended a match against the Faroe Islands, arriving after God Save The Queen had been played. She would go to Windsor Park on several further occasions in her time as Minister. Asked about the anthem issue, Hargey said: "I'm intending to go to Windsor Park to watch a game as I'm intending to go to a variety of sports grounds to watch games.

"For me, it is approaching it from a position of respect. We have a shared history here but it is a complex and layered history.

"We have to approach these things with maturity and respect but understanding that we come from different perspectives. I don't sign up to a monarchy but other people do and that's fine. It is to respect that difference.

"In any game and any approach in terms of sporting events I will do it in the spirit of respect, engaging first and foremost in the sport itself and the contribution that sport can make. I have done that with other events as a councillor. When we looked at the Decade of Centenaries I attended events around the Ulster League and Covenant and around the Battle of the Somme, and I'll approach this in the same spirit.

"Society is moving on. The big thing is around engaging and getting to know people and building relationships and that's what I want to do.

"I will respect the games and venues I am going to. If I am invited along I will attend the game and I will show respect."

Asked to confirm if she would stand for the anthem, the Minister said: "I will show respect when I am there. Yes."

Question time for the Sports Minister

Steven Beacom: Who won The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019?

Deirdre Hargey: I know this… Shane Lowry!

SB: Where do Crusaders play their home games?

DH: Is it The Oval? No, Crusaders are on the Shore Road... Seaview.

SB: How many World Superbike titles has Jonathan Rea won?

DH: Five.

SB: Name the Paralympians from Northern Ireland who won gold medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

DH: Michael McKillop. What’s her name? She’s a swimmer and the other one is a sprinter. Let me come back to it. (Five minutes later) Bethany Firth. (Thirty minutes later) Jason Smyth.

SB: Who is the manager of the Tyrone GAA team?

DH: Mickey Harte.

SB: Which club team does Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill manage?

DH: I should know this. Stoke.

SB: In boxing, who is known as The Jackal?

DH: Carl Frampton.

SB: Who is Ulster’s rugby captain?

DH: I’m not going to remember this one. I don’t know.

Correct answer: Iain Henderson.

SB: Who is Northern Ireland’s highest ranked snooker player at present?

DH: I’ll say Joe Swail but it’s not.

Correct answer: Mark Allen.

SB: What is the only golf Major that Rory McIlroy hasn’t won?

DH: He’s won the British, he’s won the PGA. Is it the European Open?

Correct answer: The Masters at Augusta.

TOTAL

7/10

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