Wednesday 19 December 2018

'I did not attack the FAI ' - Michael O'Neill releases lengthy statement on eligibility row

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill has issued a full statement regarding the player eligibility row sparked last week.

The issue began when O'Neill was quoted by the Irish Daily Mail rapping the FAI for targeting players from a nationalist background to switch allegiances to play for the Republic of Ireland.

"The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic," he said.

Republic boss Martin O'Neill responded to voice his disappointment at the comments and, in his press conference to announce the Northern Ireland squad that will face South Korea in an international friendly, Michael began by reading a prepared statement on the issue.

"Before I talk about the squad, I'd like to make a statement addressing some of the issues that have been reported in the media recently around player eligibility," he began.

"This will be the last time that I discuss this issue in public as my views are continually misrepesented by sections of the media. I will not be taking any questions other than in relation to the upcoming game against South Korea.

"During a recent interview, I was questioned about the eligibility issue, contrary to how it was reported, I did not attack the FAI - I merely responded to the questions I was asked.

"For me, eligibility is not and should not be a political issue, nor should it be a religious issue. For me, eligibility is a football issue.

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"Recent media reports have sparked much opinion, particularly around the rights of players born in Northern Ireland to be free to choose for whom they wish to play. I have never disputed that right. Nor have I ever been critical of a player for exercising that right.

"The FAI correctly states it has broken no rules in approaching young Northern Ireland players.

"My concerns lie specifically with players aged 17 to 21 in the underage set-ups.

"I've seen a heavy price paid by too many talented young players - players who have transferred their allegiance to a country that ultimately doesn't rate them or play them, creating an international vacuum for the player that signals a wholly different outcome to the career that they might have had.

"My request, therefore, to the FAI and any other association is that: that if a young player has chosen to represent Northern Ireland at Under 17, Under 19 or Under 21, that he is allowed to develop in these crucial formative years without the responsibility of having to make a decision regarding international allegiance that is binding for the rest of his career. My request extends to any country, not just the Republic of Ireland.

"Where I am critical of the FAI is the way in which it currently communicates with the IFA over a player who potentially wishes to make a transfer. There is no dialogue with out coaches from their respective counterparts at the FAI besides an email from the FAI's licensing department, requesting information on the player.

"The Irish FA invests thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of pounds in players in our Club NI programme. While it is a player's right to choose to play for the Republic of Ireland at underage level, such a decision means that another young player has missed out on the opportunity to be part of our elite performance pathway and another player in the FAI's system will miss out on selection.

"I have been asking my counterpart at the FAI for a meeting to discuss these issues for more than eight months. I am pleased that he has indicated last week that he is now willing to take me up on that.

"It is clear to me that given the examples Martin (O'Neill - Republic of Ireland manager) used in his press conference, that he has misunderstood the issues that I wish to address. I am not talking about senior players, but those aged 17 to 21 born in Northern Ireland.

"To reiterate, eligibility is a football issue. We and the FAI have a responsibility to invest in and nurture talent on both sides of the border. With that comes a duty and an obligation to protect those young talents in their most formative and vulnerable years."

Belfast Telegraph

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