King denies wrongdoing as row over recruitment of northern players rumbles on
Ireland U-21 boss Noel King has hit back at Michael O'Neill in a row over the principle of players switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic.
O'Neill described the actions of the FAI as 'morally poor' after Derry brothers Aaron and Jordan McEneff indicated a preference to move south.
As it happens, the older brother Aaron - who plays for Derry City and has represented Northern Ireland at U-21 level - remains available to the IFA because discussions with the Abbotstown authorities did not lead to the paperwork going through. Essentially, because of his age, the next move will be determined by whether the 21-year-old is wanted by either country at senior level.
However, well-regarded Arsenal youth Jordan has made his debut for Republic of Ireland at U-16 level having been involved with Northern Ireland from the age of 11.
O'Neill has claimed that the FAI have approached the players, whereas King says that the McEneffs' father, who hails from Dublin, made the first move.
The IFA have been frustrated by a knock-on consequence of the Good Friday Agreement which means any player born north of the border can opt to throw in his lot with the FAI. James McClean, Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy are high-profile examples.
King insists that the FAI are doing nothing wrong. "The rules are the rules. Listen, we don't deal with politics, we deal with the facts of FIFA. The facts of FIFA are what we obey. We also listen to the player, the player has the freedom to choose. It's straightforward,
"If I get an indication that a player wants to come to us and wants me to give him a ring, and I get word that he wants me to give him a ring, it's a possibility that I do that.
"But each case is very different. There are a load of players who have played for Ireland, I'll repeat that, who now play for the North of Ireland. You never hear us complaining.
"I don't know what that means - morally poor. Your morals and my morals might be different. So that means nothing then, does it?
"It could mean everything. I would have spoken to Aaron, definitely yes," continued King (above), denying that the first contact came from the FAI and suggesting that McEneff's camp got in touch him.
"Aaron did indicate that he wanted to come and join us. I spoke to Aaron, I spoke to his family, it didn't come across the line after long discussions. What was best for Aaron and what Aaron's family thought was best for him, he did.
"I supported that. I can't understand how Michael O'Neill doesn't know he has a player in Aaron McEneff. The fact is he is a Northern Ireland player. Does he not know that, Michael? Will he play for the Northern Ireland senior team?
"Look at every country in European football - they all bring in players from different countries. They are the rules of the competition.
"If you always stick with the idea that the player does what he wants to do - the player talks to his family and they together will decide, they will talk to whichever association they want to talk to, and they will do that. Some players then will change.
"They are the laws. I don't understand why there is a big deal about it.
"Maybe someone is trying to deflect attention from something else. Our stance has always been it is player first. And any parent will put their child first and want the best for their child. That's the reality."
King was speaking at the announcement of his squad for the European qualifier with Kosovo on March 25.
On the issue of eligibility, he said that Brentford's Tom Field is opting to concentrate on club football for the remainder of this season.
The English-born left-back represented Ireland at U-16 level but has been out of the scene for a while and Wales now want to bring him on board.
"If he doesn't come to us, we'll wish him all the best where he goes, that would be the normal thing," said King.
Ireland have recruited 20-year-old attacker Joe Quigley who is on loan at Gillingham from Bournemouth.
"He's one for the future, I don't know if you'd call him prolific but he likes to be in the box," said King.
The form player in the squad is QPR's ex-Galway star Ryan Manning who is making waves at Championship level. Derry City's Ronan Curtis and Finn Harps' Ethan Boyle fly the flag for the League of Ireland.
Manchester United netminder Kieran O'Hara - who travelled with the first team squad to Russia last week - is also in the frame.
Ireland U-21 squad
(v Kosovo, March 25, Tallaght)
Goalkeepers: Kieran O'Hara (Manchester United), Liam Bossin (Anderlecht)
Defenders: Danny Kane (Huddersfield Town), Ryan Sweeney (Stoke City - on loan at Bristol Rovers), Shaun Donnellan (West Bromwich Albion), Corey Whelan (Liverpool), Connor O'Grady (Sheffield Wednesday)
Midfielders: Liam Kinsella (Walsall), Rory Hale (Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (West Ham United - on loan at Bradford), Harry Charsley (Everton), Ryan Manning (Queens Park Rangers), Ethan Boyle (Finn Harps), Connor Dimaio (Chesterfield), Olamide Shodipo (Queens Park Rangers - on loan to Port Vale)
Forwards: Ronan Curtis (Derry City), Grego Cox (Queens Park Rangers), Jake Mulraney (Inverness CT), Joe Quigley (Bournemouth - on loan at Gillingham)