Scotland keeping McCarthy 'on radar'
It is being billed as a friendly tournament but the four nations involved insist there will be a competitive edge to the Carling Nations Cup, launched yesterday at its 2011 HQ in Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
And while much of the toxicity of a North v South fixture has dissipated since the poisonous Windsor Park World Cup qualifier 17 years ago, another political football row promises to inject a degree of extra spice into the fixture.
Scotland, too, will be keen to get their studs into Giovanni Trapattoni's side to offset some high-profile decisions that have gone against them away from the field of play.
Player eligibility remains a contentious issue, with the FAI's recent acquisition of four leading northern lights -- Everton's Shane Duffy, Manchester United's Darron Gibson, Portsmouth's Marc Wilson and latterly Dundalk starlet Daniel Kearns -- causing a ruckus north of the border.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish passports can be held by Irish citizens born on either side of the border but the IFA are determined that players like Gibson and Kearns, born in Northern Ireland without family links to the South, should not be allowed to play for the Republic.
However, that case was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last summer and, despite exchanges of diplomatic niceties between Abbottstown and Windsor Avenue, the issue continues to fester.
Earlier this year, Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington laid into the FAI with his size 12s after Duffy joined the lengthening list of defectors, stating that he "found it difficult to understand that a player doesn't want to play for Northern Ireland".
Yesterday, as the suits congregated to smile for the cameras and shake hands with the sponsors, Worthington was a tad more circumspect.
"My view is very simple, I think there have been two players who have declared for the Republic," he began. "I've got no issue with that. We will continue to produce players for our own country. If they then decide, if they are qualified for a different country, or want to move on, then so be it.
"The CAS situation is beyond my control. That's the president of the association, the chief executive, who deal with that side of things. I'm the football side and that's all I'm focused on."
Trapattoni hastened to engineer an element of levity to the situation by referring to increased globalisation, imagining a hypothetical situation whereby an Italian may some day decide to opt for Ireland. Well, he did.
"Mr Trapattoni answered the question for everybody -- globalisation," affirmed Worthington, his now apparently altered, sanguine position belied by an increasing gruffness.
"If there is a player who qualifies for you and wants to play for you and he's a good player then you bring him in. We're no different to any other nation.
"I've got no qualms with the Republic in what they do, or Scotland in what they do. If somebody doesn't want to play for you, that country or you, then they are better off elsewhere if they qualify for that nation."
For his part, Craig Levein's equally stern task with the similarly stricken Scots has hardly been leavened by the high-profile defections -- "poaching" is the term behind closed doors -- of players like Glaswegian duo James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady, the latter becoming a recipient of horrendous sectarian abuse throughout Scotland as a result.
"You have to remember that our job is to select the best players available," he said. "It's not to decide who is available."
McCarthy remains on the radar, despite already turning down an earlier entreaty from Levein last season, as he has yet to play competitively for Trapattoni -- last march's friendly against Brazil has not yet irrevocably tied him to the Republic.
"Every player who is eligible to play for Scotland is on the radar. I had a conversation with James going back to when I got the job and he indicated he wanted to play for Ireland.
"I don't close the door on anything. We're not in a position where we have enough quality players to say, 'sorry, we don't want anyone'. Again, when it comes around to it, the situation is as Nigel alluded to and Giovanni said: players will play for who they want to play for.
"Once they get over 21 years of age or are capped in a competitive match, that's them aligned to that country.
"But up until that point, the opportunity is there to change from one to another. We're not closing any doors to anybody so we'll wait and see."
Carling haven't yet commissioned a trophy for their Nations Cup but there is enough intrigue off the pitch to ensure that the battle for bragging rights will be just as eagerly contested.