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Saturday 21 July 2018

Northern Ireland boss wants talks with Martin but asks for 'fairness'

TENSIONS: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill (r) wants talks with his Republic counterpart Martin O’Neill (l)
TENSIONS: Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill (r) wants talks with his Republic counterpart Martin O’Neill (l)

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill says he hopes to hold clear-the-air talks with his counterpart south of the border in a bid to cool tensions over player eligibility.

And O'Neill has appealed for "transparency and fairness" from the FAI over the issue of players moving south of the border for their international careers.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss was in Belfast yesterday to name his squad for a friendly against South Korea but once again the issue of Northern-born footballers playing for the Republic took up much of the air time.

Martin O'Neill and the FAI were stung by comments by Michael O'Neill last week where words like "weasel" and "sectarian" were used in relation to the FAI policy of recruiting players from the North.

The Republic boss stood his ground, stating that no player has made the cross-border move at senior level since he took the Republic job in 2013, and he claimed that the player's preference will always dictate what happens.

Michael O'Neill did some back-tracking when he issued a statement yesterday, but his core point remains the same, that players already in the North's underage international system are not approached by the Republic.

"I have been asking my counterpart at the FAI for a meeting to discuss these issues for more than eight months. I am pleased that he indicated last week that he is now willing to take me up on that," Michael O'Neill said.

"It is clear to me that given the examples that Martin used in his press conference that he misunderstood the issues that I wish to address. I am not talking about senior players but those aged 17-21 born in Northern Ireland.

"To reiterate, eligibility is a football issue. We and the FAI have a responsibility to invest in and nurture talent on both sides of the border. With that comes a duty and an obligation to protect those young talents in their most formative and vulnerable years.

"We appeal for transparency and fairness at underage level. We respect that young players, who represent Northern Ireland at underage level, have the right to choose to play for the Republic. What we are asking for is that such a significant decision - one that could affect their entire career - is neither influenced nor made until that player reaches senior age and is made at a time which is in the player's best interest."

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