Thursday 18 January 2018

'It was terrible' - North boss Michael O'Neill blasts FAI policy as young players switch allegiance

Aaron McEneff and (inset) Martin O'Neill with his Northern counterpart Michael
Aaron McEneff and (inset) Martin O'Neill with his Northern counterpart Michael
Aaron McEneff in action for Derry City. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Michael O'Neill has slammed the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) by describing their latest pursuit of players who have represented Northern Ireland at youth level as "terrible".

In a stinging statement, he has claimed that some players who have switched allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic regret their decisions and questioned whether the FAI recruit from the North "just for the sake of it".

Gifted Arsenal teenager Jordan McEneff, who scored the winner on his U-16 debut for Ireland two weeks ago, and Derry City's Josh Daniels are the latest to exercise their right to switch under FIFA's eligibility rules. But what angered O'Neill most was Jordan's older brother, Derry City's Aaron McEneff, opting to change allegiance during an U-21 campaign last year.

For the FAI's part, they have continuously denied approaching players from the North, emphasising the first contact comes from prospects interested in representing the Republic of Ireland.

"We know we will face a challenge on young players, we know conversations happen between the Republic of Ireland and our young players but I thought it was terrible to approach a player (McEneff) with two games of our U-21 Euro campaign to go," said O'Neill. "I thought it was poor for the Republic of Ireland to do that, to ask a young player to make that decision and I made that clear to (Ireland U-21 boss) Noel King at the time.

"With Jordan McEneff, I feel for our coaching staff who had worked with the boy for three years. He captained our Under-16 Victory Shield side and after that he opted out. There was nothing we could do."

As FIFA rules only allow a player to switch once, O'Neill wants the FAI to stop enlisting players until senior level.

He added: "There are examples of players switching over the years and then they don't play any games for the Republic. It would be good if they (FAI) looked at it and said: 'do we genuinely think he is going to be a senior international player for us or are we just taking him for the sake of it?'

"I think it's something which is an FAI policy and not necessarily anything to do with the manager," he insisted.

"I don't think Martin O'Neill is approaching players. The target age (for the FAI) is younger boys between the ages of 16 until 21."

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