Eligibilty (Political Football) A Guest Post from “Sammy McNally”

With the DUP turning up at GAA matches, SF ministers turning up at Windsor park and funds from Stormo being allocated to Sports facilities to be shared between Soccer, Rugby and GAA, you could be forgiven for believing that sport in Northern Ireland is in a very harmonious place.

But beneath the surface, the eligibility issues surrounding Northern Ireland footballers rumbles divisively on. In just over 2 months the European Football Championships will kick off and if Signore Trapattoni,the manager of the Republic of  Ireland, has any sense (which is by no means a given) he will be including Sunderland’s rising Premier league star, James McClean, in his squad.

As a Nationalist from the Creggan in Derry, it was hardly a surprise, that McClean would, when and if the opportunity arose, switch his allegiance from North to South of the border. Nor was it a surprise, that McClean’s decision would spark an  outpouring of fury from Northern Ireland football supporters and the complaint that one of their brightest prospects had been ‘poached’ by their bitterest rivals.

With Northern Ireland sliding down the world rankings (currently 87th) and the Republic heading off towards the Euros, Northern football supporters anger and indignation towards the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision (in 2010) to confirm that the border could be ignored and ‘Ireland’ could continue to select Northerners – shows absolutely no signs of abating.

The Northern Football fan website Our Wee Country provides a forum for irate Northerners to rail against both the FAI(commonly referred to as the ‘splinter group’), and the Republic’s team(commonly referred to as ‘the beggars’) and their seems to be little appetite amongst contributors for any sort of accommodation – with James McClean the focus of considerable personal abuse.

(In line with the ‘splinter group’ theme and in what sounds more akin to Connolly House sloganeering the IFA on their website state that they look after “the interests of the game in the six northern counties…”.)

But surely some accommodation between the IFA and the FAI is required  – which both accepts that those North of the border are perfectly entitled  to declare for the South but also seeks to ensure that having spent time and money and effort developing age grade players, the Northern football authorities won’t just see the Republic reaping the benefits.

Of course there are those, myself included, who would like to see Soccer, like Rugby and GAA played successfully on an All Island basis but given the bitterness that exists within soccerball’s natural support base that is clearly some way off – in the meantime just like the once sworn enemies up at Stormo have done – the FAI and the IFA really need to show some leadership and make a determined effort to resolve this divisive issue…. and with Ulster and Munster and Leinster challenging for European success in the Heineken Cup Quarters finals next weekend and the GAA in rude health on both sides of the border, these two follicly challenged, ‘splinter’ soccerball associations clearly need to agree on the use of a comb.

This is a “guest post” from “Sammy McNally”

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8 Responses to Eligibilty (Political Football) A Guest Post from “Sammy McNally”

  1. bangordub says:

    Good Post Sammy
    No easy answers to this one I’m afraid.
    Are you suggesting some sort of “Compensation” arrangement?
    If so that might impact more severely on the IFA than the FAI

    • I actually think the issue will resolve itself.
      If Maik Taylor had been good enough to play for England, he would not have played for Norn Iron.
      If Tony Cascarino had been good enough to play for England, he would not have played for Ireland.
      There are other English born players, Kevin Kilbane for example, who were brought up in an overtly Irish family. It is unlikely that he would ever been good enough for England but he probably prefers playing for Ireland.
      The first Irish player to benefit from the “parental rule” was Shay Brennan of Manchester United in the mid 1960s. Born in Manchester to Irish parents (County Carlow) he was actualy in Englands “long list” for the 1962 World Cup but never capped.
      But he was certainly at ease in the Irish squad, playing for Waterford after he retired from English football and he is buried in Tramore.
      Likewise Paddy Crearand (Celtic and Manchester United) in his autobiography “Never Turn the Other Cheek” states he would have preferred to play for Ireland.
      It is all about choice. And sooner or later Norn Iron will be beneficiaries (of sorts). James McClean looks a real prospect….but as yet Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and Shane Duffy have not set the world alight.

      But with Norn Iron languishing at #7 or whatever in World Rankings and Ireland at #19 or whatever, then there will come a time when a norther nationalist will find that he does not have much chance of representing Ireland……just like Taylor and Cascarino discovered with England.
      The next Norn Iron “Catholic” who opts for Norn Iron will be heralded as a hero on Our wee Country but the real point is that he will have made his own choice. Nobody chose for him.
      Compensation Payments??? Absolutely not. A very bad precedent. Should English authorities be compensated for Mai Taylor and Cascarino.
      Our Wee Country is in receipt of generous taxpayer funding……levied on unionists and nationalists alike.
      And “compensation” dilutes the absolute right of a northern player to play for Ireland. It is not a privelege to be “bought”.

  2. itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit says:


    I think in the short term there could be some sort of compensation and in the longer term some agreement that the Republic will not pick players that have been all the way through the age grade Northern structure. It seems sensible that the FAI and IFA should seek to find agreement as it clearly causing massive consternation amongst Northern fans and that will probably only get worse if, as seems likely, McClean, Gibson (et al) increase their profile. I dont think it is good enough for the FAI (as a responsible public organisation) to ignore these problems in the North and as I pointed out repeatedly (before being oxtered-oot) on the Our Wee Country website the IFA should despatch Gerry Armstrong down South on a porpaganda tour to ensure the Republic exercise their right to select Northern players in an agreed way. As Northern fans point out they are ‘Irish’ and have made concerted efforts to avoid complaints of sectarianism and it would not be healthy or desirable or good for ‘community realtions’ if the Northern Ireland team was simply a ‘Unionist’ team.

  3. itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit says:


    Our posts obviously crossed in the internetasphere.

    re. “Our Wee Country is in receipt of generous taxpayer funding……levied on unionists and nationalists alike.”

    Do share.

    You may be right about sorting itself out over time but as I mentioned above the 2 splinter groups need to act responsibly on an issue that is clearly souring ‘community’ relations.

  4. bangordub says:

    Thanks for the replies lads,
    Whats the chances of the FAI and IFA getting together over a few pints to thrash out a solution rather than via blogs (I know FJH has a hugely inflated opinion of the value of blogs………not, lol) and supporters websites?
    If the Shinners and Dupers can do it surely some football/soccer heads can do the same.
    For what it’s worth, I have a suggestion. Why not examine the bigger issue of funding at grassroots level and develop some joint iniciatives, eg: jointly fund the Milk Cup?
    I know there is a territorial issue here but surely the two FA’s need to be seen to be behaving like grown up’s ?
    The recent Setanta Cup game in Derry demonstrates how far there is to go although, conversely, the game at Windsor park had the opposite effect with Marty McG in attendance.
    To my mind the IFA seem to be invoking the old “Seige mentality” thing while the rest of the world just moves on.

    • itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit says:


      Northern (mainly Unionist) anger about this issue is so great that it is hard to get a considered opinion from their side, but as you say cooperation in tournaments, joint funding etc should come as standard.

      Unfortunately, as long suffering football fans everywhere in these islands well know there is a thug-nutter-faction associated with soccerball which makes many sensible ideas impossible and particlularly so in Northern Ireland where sectarianism provides a readymade supply of grievances and reasons not to compromise.

  5. bangordub says:

    I have had this conversation with an otherwise perfectly reasonable, rational unionist.
    He genuinely could not get his head around why a young nationalist player didn’t identify with the northern team.
    I explained, really I did………

  6. itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit says:


    I think the issue here is simply that there is an overwhelming sense of grievance that Norn Iron is treated differently from all other countries – notwithstanding the fact that Norn Iron is not a country and many in FIFA are believed to favour one British team i.e. no Northern Ireland or Scotland or Wales.

    This grievance overlays the politcal insecurity which is an integral part of the Unionist psyche and allowing Northerners to play for the South further erodes Unionists sense of Norn Iron being treated as fully ‘British’. From a Nationalist persepcitve Northerners playing for the South reinforces the ‘Irishness’ of the North. Over on OWC there is a determined view that Northerners have nothing in common with Southerners in spite of complaining loudly if they are not regarded as Irish themselves.

    Before being involuntarily removed (for a month) from OWC I pointed out that those who complain about the FAI being a splinter group should logically be wishing to see the unsplintering of same but not suprisingly this bit of logic is not entertained.

    Unionists have long been accused of being poor at making friends and influencing people and this eligibilty looks to be a classic example of same.

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