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Olympics-bound Behan may be London born, but he's Irish bred

"Why are you speaking with an English accent?" -- it was a tongue-in-cheek question from Ryan Tubridy to London-Irish olympic sensation Kieran Behan on last Friday's 'The Late Late Show', but it felt momentarily uncomfortable.

The 22-year-old gymnast, who grew up in Croydon has a strong Cockney accent but possesses an even stronger desire to represent Ireland on the international stage.

He batted off the question with charming ease, explaining that his mother Bernie is from Monaghan while his father Phil hails from Dublin. The Behan household also consists of Kieran's sister Aine, and when it comes to national identity they know in which camp they belong.

We're well versed to roaring on sportsmen in green who sound more like Jamie Redknapp than Jamie Heaslip. We managed to adopt Jack Charlton with incredible ease along with his random collection of players with grannies who were born in the west of Ireland.

We watched these third-generation Irish players line up for our national anthem, though few sung along

Today, the Republic of Ireland side features few starters who weren't born on Irish soil. However, there are some, such as Jonathan Walters, Simon Cox, Sean St Ledger and Glaswegian Aiden McGeady -- but they are in the minority.

The Irish team that will compete in the country's first game in this summer's European championships against Croatia will be mostly comprised of first-generation Irishmen.

When Charlton's charges defeated England 1-0 at Euro '88, seven of the starting 11 were born across the Irish Sea (Morris, Hughton, McCarthy, McGrath, Houghton, Aldridge and Galvin).

Times are changing in Irish football, and in the stands supporters prefer their heroes to be Irish rather than foreigners in Irish jerseys.

Declan Finnegan, chairman of the Republic of Ireland supporters club (RISSC), said many of their second and third generation Irish supporters still got jibes from homegrown supporters.

"It's still a problem," he said. "A lot of our lads who grew up here have been supporting Ireland since before some of the young pups who have a go at them were even born."

He said an incident prior to the second leg of the qualification play-off with Estonia was particularly unsavoury.

"We meet in a hotel in Ballsbridge to give our members tickets and before that game three of our group, who were second generation Irish lads, were sitting waiting for us.

"They were minding their own business but a guy from the west of Ireland, who was sitting next to them took offence at their accents.

"He started saying 'why don't you support your own country?' and it got a bit heated. In the end we had to get the hotel management to intervene," said Mr Finnegan.

The RISSC has almost 500 members with roughly half born in England. Some 236 of those in the club have already registered for European Championship tickets.

While the likes of Shane McGowan are lauded as great Irishmen who just happened to grow up abroad it seems there's a minority who aren't comfortable with sports men and women representing the country of their forefathers rather than the one in which they live.

Irish Independent