These boys are not for turning
McCarthy and Wilson are reacting with bravery and maturity to Ireland's call
WHEN the creators of the Muppets set up Kermit the Frog to stare soulfully into the camera and sing "It's not easy being green", it's safe to assume that they weren't thinking too much about international football.
But for James McCarthy and Marc Wilson, the song title is just about perfect.
Two young lads with stars in their eyes and a hardcore intent to represent the Republic of Ireland -- come what may -- turned up at Arsenal's training ground near St Albans yesterday and put to bed any lingering doubts about their allegiance.
Other than a few meddlesome hacks from Glasgow and the No Surrender brigade in Belfast, pretty much everyone else knew that McCarthy and indeed Wilson were not for turning but it was good to hear it all the same. No doubts, no decision to be made.
McCarthy could sing the chorus with Kermit though, and with feeling. He's been through some tough times since he picked green instead of blue and much of it endured at a tender age when the average young Irishman is still waiting for his first growth of chin hair.
But ask around about McCarthy and a line of form quickly emerges. This is a resilient young man who knows his own mind and has dealt with the abuse he had to suffer at every SPL and Scottish First Division ground with impressive maturity.
McCarthy heard the odious anthem of raw sectarianism "The Famine Song" everywhere he went but probably didn't waste any time pondering the irony of some bone-headed neanderthals tunelessly bellowing out their demand that the Irish should go back to where they came from and then crying foul when he followed their advice.
Wilson never had to cope with the same level of tawdry bigotry. The IFA did come to his door some time ago wondering why he had chosen to play for the South rather than the North.
"I didn't come under pressure. They were in contact a long time ago, but not since then. It wasn't up for discussion. It was an easy decision for me. I've always supported the Republic of Ireland since I was growing up," said Wilson, measuring his responses carefully.
Given that Shane Duffy's decision to switch to the Republic has caused the IFA to explode once again with faux-angst and storm the halls of the Court of Arbitration in Sport with more pointless blathering, Wilson was right to tread warily around a delicate subject.
He even expressed some mild sympathy for Nigel Worthington's dilemma before making the only point that really matters.
"The manager wants to have as many players in his squad as he can but I think if the player doesn't want to play, it's his decision at the end of the day. That's what it boils down to. The first time away with Ireland was in Sweden and I loved it and it felt right," he said with finality. Subject closed and move on to Brazil. If only it was that simple. The IFA will walk themselves into another humiliating defeat on this issue no matter how many courts are involved. Fifa have ruled on the matter and short of ripping up the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish constitution, any further debate is pointless.
In fact, the more they try to oppose the wishes of those who want to play for the Republic of Ireland and are qualified to do so, the more they will drive young lads with a nationalist background into the arms of the enemy and polarise the Northern Ireland team to a point where only lads of a certain background will choose to play for the IFA. Let's be honest, that's what this is about. Sure, in purely football terms, there is sympathy for Worthington who can only sit and watch some of the most talented players in his recruitment area disappear into a green mist never to be seen again.
Mind you, it didn't stop him turning the heads of two Manchester United kids, Joe Dudgeon and Oliver Norwood, both of whom played under-age football for England but appear to have chosen Northern Ireland. That's the problem with the IFA's constant spluttering on this issue. They see no problem whatsoever in persuading two English kids to play for Northern Ireland but lose the plot completely when someone from Derry or Belfast chooses an Irish passport. It's a bizarre double standard.
McCarthy is in a different place altogether and his decision to turn away from the country of his birth for Ireland is much more straight-forward, although you never would have guessed that from the increasingly pathetic and clearly spurious series of stories which have emerged in the Scottish media in the last month and indeed, for many months before that.
"It's all paper talk. I don't know where the story came from. Scotland said I wasn't good enough at first and Ireland came in for me, to be honest, Ireland have been absolutely brilliant and that's the case really," said the quitely spoken teenager.
Did Gary Caldwell bend his ear with talk of Scotland?
"He had a chat with me but nothing was going to change."
Did Craig Levin try?
"He spoke to Gary about it, as I say, because Ireland have done so well for me in everything they've done for me, I was delighted to be part of it.
"It's a bit frustrating when it keeps coming back now and again. I don't know where it's coming from, I don't know who's saying it, I just have to block it out and just get on with my own game. I got a couple of phone calls from Ireland asking what's happening but I told them from day one that nothing was happening and it's just paper talk."
"Liam Brady was on and I told him nothing was happening and he said to keep working hard at my club and see what happens.
"Ireland came in, Scotland said I wasn't good enough -- Ireland came in and I was delighted to go and represent Ireland especially for my granddad who was so proud," he said.
"I was told by my advisor at the time that he asked Scotland to put me in a squad, but they said we'll leave him now, he's not better than what we got. Ireland came over and watched my first game and put me in. It was Seán McCaffrey who came over himself and he is a really good fella, he looked after me and my family."
Right now, Giovanni Trapattoni and the FAI should be down on their hands and knees offering fervent thanks. McCaffrey did his country a huge service by doing his job properly and showing some hospitality and commitment.
So if the IFA, the Scottish FA and the closet bigots in the Belfast and Glasgow media need to understand why they are losing some of their best players, maybe they should give McCaffrey a call and ask for some advice.