All North-born players free to declare for Republic
THE FAI were celebrating a victory they expected last night, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed with FIFA that any player from Northern Ireland should be allowed to declare for the Republic -- even if their parents and grandparents were also born in the six counties.
Northern Irish football chiefs had brought the test case of midfielder Daniel Kearns to CAS headquarters in Lausanne, hoping for a ruling that could stem the tide of players who represent the North at underage level before switching sides.
Kearns, recently released by West Ham, was called into Sean McCaffrey's Ireland U-19 squad earlier this year after previously lining out for Northern Ireland at the U-17 level. He is following in the footsteps of players such as Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and Shane Duffy, who all switched sides after representing the North at various age groups, although the Irish Football Association (IFA) accepted that, with respect to the finer points of their appeal, the latter could switch as his father hails from Donegal.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish passports can be held by anyone born on either side of the border. The IFA argued that, without family links to the south, no player should be allowed switch sides.
Recently modified FIFA rules allow individuals to change their declared nationality once they haven't played in official competition at senior international level -- Duffy had captained the North's U-21 team and sat on the bench for a senior friendly.
Both associations had made representations at a hearing in Switzerland on July 19, with Kearns, a native of West Belfast, also bringing legal support to outline his situation.
"The CAS panel dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision issued by the single judge of the FIFA players' status committee, which recognised that Daniel Kearns was eligible to play for the national team of the FAI," read a statement from CAS.
The ruling will come into force with immediate effect, increasing fears in Belfast that further talent will be lost to them. In addition, the IFA will pay all related costs.
FAI CEO John Delaney welcomed the news, saying: "The landmark decision by CAS confirms the FIFA and FAI position on player eligibility.
"The ruling upholds the right of individual choice on this matter for players born north of the border. I would like to recognise the determination of Daniel Kearns and his family to uphold his right as an Irish citizen to play for his country."
While the IFA said they wouldn't release an official statement pending the release of a more detailed verdict from CAS, outgoing president Raymond Kennedy stressed his disappointment.
"We will continue to develop our very successful and wide range of 'Football For All' and community programmes ... to ensure that anyone available to play for Northern Ireland will want to do so," he said.