Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill denies attacking FAI over player eligibility
Last Updated: 12/03/18 5:46pm
Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill says he "did not attack" the Football Association of Ireland over the issue of player eligibility.
O'Neill released a statement to clarify his comments in the Irish Daily Mail last week, where he was quoted accusing the FAI of only targeting Catholics to switch allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.
The 48-year-old, who says eligibility is not a political or religious issue, wants underage Northern Irish players to be allowed remain in their system and not make a decision on their international future until they reach senior level.
He said: "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.
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.
"The FAI correctly states it has broken no rules in approaching young Northern Ireland players requesting they switch allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.
"My concerns lie specifically with players aged 17-21 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, nor play them - creating an international vacuum for the player that signals a wholly different outcome to the career that they may have had.
"My request therefore, to the FAI and to any other association, is this: that if a young player has chosen to represent Northern Ireland at U17, U19 or U21 level, that he is allowed to develop in these crucial formative years without the responsibility of having to make a decision regarding his international allegiance that is binding for the rest of his career.
"My request extends to any country, not just the Republic of Ireland."
One area where O'Neill was critical of the FAI is their communication with the IFA over players who are considering transferring, saying they only receive an email from the FAI's licensing department requesting information.
"The Irish FA invests thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of pounds in players in our Club NI programme," said O'Neill.
"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 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 indicated last week that he is now willing to take me up on that."
He added: "We respect that young players, who represent Northern Ireland at underage level have the right to choose to play for the Republic of Ireland.
"What we are asking for is that such a significant decision - one that could affect their entire career - is neither influenced nor made until that player reaches senior age and is made at a time which is in the player's best interest."
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