New Republic Of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has insisted he will continue to select players born in Northern Ireland — if they want to declare for his team.
The Irish Football Association and their counterparts in Dublin, the Football Association of Ireland, have been locked in an eligibility row for over a decade after former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport shared the view that players born in Northern Ireland, who hold an Irish passport, could be snapped up by the Republic.
Kenny told Sunday Life Sport: “It’s the right of the individual players to choose who they want to play for and I will certainly continue that policy.
“It is up to the individual player to make his own choices, if he wants to play for the Republic, of course I am going to respect that.”
The Irish FA will be powerless to stop Kenny from whisking players away to Dublin.
An Irish FA spokesperson admitted: “We respect a player’s right to choose but we will continue to work hard to offer players born in Northern Ireland a pathway to our senior international team.”
Michael O’Neill had hoped a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, between the two associations, would come into play so that young players didn’t have to make an early decision on their international futures as once they change associations, they can’t return.
However, with Martin O’Neill leaving the FAI, that never came to fruition.
Instead the Irish FA have been forced to accept that young players who they may invest heavily in through coaching camps, matches and expert career advice, while coming through the under-age systems, have the option to decide to play their international football for the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland.
Shane Duffy, James McClean and Eunan O’Kane have all played for Northern Ireland at underage level but went on to make their senior bows for the Republic.
“We have three players from Derry in the squad at the moment,” said Kenny in his first week after replacing Mick McCarthy, whose contract was terminated soon after Euro 2020 was postponed.
“James McClean, who I managed as a young player, is one — he has done really well for Ireland. Shane Duffy has been exceptional also, he was a young player at Foyle Harps and went to Everton initially. He has done brilliantly for Ireland,” he added.
“Ronan Curtis, who moved from Derry to Portsmouth, has put in some good performances for Noel King’s Under 21s and Ronan played against Dundalk quite frequently for Derry. We also have Marc Wilson from Belfast.”