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Can future defectors from Northern Ireland to Republic really cite footballing reasons?



Stephen Kenny has started work as Republic of Ireland boss (Niall Carson/PA)

Stephen Kenny has started work as Republic of Ireland boss (Niall Carson/PA)

Stephen Kenny has started work as Republic of Ireland boss (Niall Carson/PA)

Interesting but not unduly surprising, nor indeed unfair, comments from the new Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny that it is still his intention to pursue and welcome any player from Northern Ireland who indicates a willingness or desire to play for his side.

It's always been a touchy subject and it's something that has simmered on the surface but festered like mad underneath since it was rubber-stamped as part of the Good Friday Agreement, which enabled players from this side of the border to switch their allegiance.

I've always been a strong advocate of never mixing politics with sport, although I dread to think just where this country would be if it weren't for sport acting as the glue and building vital bridges in our communities.

A few years ago, I was able to see why some of our talented young players would maybe want to jump ship. The Republic were a better team than we were so, for football reasons alone, I could accept that some kids might see it as a better opportunity of qualifying for and playing in all the big competitions.

However, the wheel of fortune has now turned full circle.

The Football Association of Ireland have been in complete disarray for some time now and are, if truth be told, nothing short of a complete embarrassment for all those genuine football people in the Republic.

Nevertheless, I still rate their decision of plumping for Kenny to replace Mick McCarthy as a very good one.

I know Stephen and I rate him highly. He's a top coach and a very successful manager, plus it's also an added bonus that he's a good, sound bloke as well.

Given the time and proper respect, I have no doubt whatsoever that he'll do an excellent job.

However, my views have been realigned somewhat with regard to young players in particular opting to switch allegiance and choosing to ply their trade with the Republic rather than staying with the country of their birth.

No longer can it be claimed that it's for football reasons alone and no longer can they claim any credence in that they feel uncomfortable playing at Windsor Park or pointing the finger at sectarianism. None of that washes with me anymore because it quite simply doesn't stack up.

I'd also be in favour of any Northern Ireland kid who still harbours any aspirations of playing for the Republic needing to declare his or her intentions at a young age and make the move when they're 14 or 15, even if that means it's a collective decision between the player and their parents or custodians.

What's the point of allowing people to exploit and avail of what I now consider to be the much better coaching system and youth football infrastructure between the two associations when those qualities and opportunities should be reserved solely for young players who have the pride and desire to play for the country of their birth?

So let's get shot of those grey areas.

Anyone who at this minute in time would want to represent the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland - and I won't mince my words here - is doing so purely for political reasons. If my gut feeling is proved right then that saddens me.

False alarm as lockdown offers chance to reflect

I admit it’s a strange subject and maybe it’s the isolation getting to me, but is it only me or are false people actually on the increase? 

After a tough start in life when I lost my father Jim to a brain haemorrhage when I was just two years old, it’s taken a combination of hard work and good luck to allow me to live a very privileged life by comparison to many others — and it’s for that reason that I believe I’m seeing a rise in the amount of false people out there.

My late great friend Harry Gregg was a genius at spotting phonies and I guess a fraction of his undoubted ability has rubbed off on me.

In my line of work and among the many functions I’m invited to attend, I find myself rubbing shoulders with a few famous faces and, though the majority of them are thankfully decent, honest people, there are also plenty who ‘don’t stand the knowing’ (as we would say in the toon), and are about as genuine as a £6 note.

Likewise, some people from the sporting fraternity are now so full of their own importance that they are completely oblivious to what you or I would term as the real world out there.  

If you’re working class or perceived as common, always be proud of who you are and where you come from. Don’t ever try to be something you’re not. Just be yourself and you’ll be much better thought of.   Let’s cut out the heavily disguised pretence and false faces. It’s stomach-churning at times and neither sport nor society in general need it.

Barc back to fine reunion

My heart sank when I heard that former Linfield goalkeeper Ken Barclay had passed away.  

Ken will always be in my memories because, as I’ve often said before, in sport you make so many friends and I always considered the big man to be one of the nicer people I’ve met in the game.  

We clashed swords many times during the ’70s but perhaps harshly — and ironically — the Blues stopper will be unfairly remembered for the 1977 Irish Cup Final when he put in one of his less flattering performances in a 4-1 defeat to Coleraine.

Yes, perhaps he could have done better when I scored the opener for the Bannsiders, but I thought he had no chance of saving any of the other three scored by Dessie Dickson, Frankie Moffatt and Michael Guy. 

I hadn’t seen much of Ken for a long time after we’d stopped playing. That was until I was guest speaker at a Linfield supporters’ club dinner three years ago.

When I arrived, the organisers were telling me the names of all the past and present players who would be in attendance, but they were eager to emphasise one in particular who was keen to meet up with me again — and that man was none other than Ken Barclay.  

It was an absolute pleasure when the door opened and in walked the big lad himself.

In no time at all, the banter had started and I quickly pointed out: “I see you’ve no gloves on Ken. I suppose your hands are still stinging after that goal of mine in ’77 which you could only parry into the net such was the ferocity of the shot?”

Mind you, he gave as good as he got on the night, but I was delighted that at last we’d got a proper chance to have a good catch-up.

Sadly with the current government restrictions, I was unable to attend his funeral, but I will always have fond memories and total respect for big Ken — a diamond as a person.

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