On The One Road

Great to see the “On The One Road” banners in the crowd at Friday nights football match between Ireland and Latvia. And even better to hear the song “On The One Road” blaring out from the public address system about half an hour before kick-off.
I recall singing this song in primary school over fifty years ago.
Not quite a rebel song…I understand it was written during World War Two (the Emergency 1939-1945).
“North men, South men, comrades all…Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Donegal…we’re on the one road, swinging along….Singing a Soldiers Song”.
The banner and song becomes relevant as Irelands under-performing team is now managed by a Dream Team….Martin O’Neill (former Norn Iron player and successful manager of among others Celtic) and Roy Keane, arguably Irelands best ever player, Cork man and of an explosive temperament.
A popular choice with fans before their first match…but really the success of the Dream Team will depend on more than a comfortable 3-0 win over lowly Latvia.

For several years now, Norn Iron football authorities have watched talented footballers…Irish citizens born in the North…exercise their right to play for their nation, Ireland. Stupidly the Northern Association asked for a ruling from the World governing body (FIFA) hoping that FIFA would state that Northern-born players could play for Norn Iron.
The “northern” case was thrown out, making it impossible for any good relations to develop between the Norn Iron football authority and northern nationalists and Catholics.
On Friday night, James McClean from Derry and Marc Wilson (Aghagallon) started for the “Republic”. A third Derry-born player Darren Gibson would have played but was injured.
The remarkable thing is that it is no longer “remarkable” to see northerners in the Irish team.
Thats Yesterday’s Battle.
Norn Iron Football is plagued by Sectarianism. See my blog a few weeks ago about the Linfield-Cliftonville match. At least on that occasion the Referee to his credit called for a public address announcement that nit should stop.
While I admire much good work done over the past twenty years, it is far too little and far too late.
The process cannot be reversed in Belfast.
Nor can it be reversed in Dublin.
We have…in effect an all-Ireland National Football team and it was achieved without compromising on the National Flag or the National Anthem.
When Martin O’Neill signed up , the all-Ireland dimension was achieved.

Of course, it can be pointed out that the manager of a national football team is quite different from the players.
Necessarily Irelands players have to satisfy the rules on eligibility but the manager and staff can be recruited from anywhere.
Nobody in Italy saw Trappatoni as a traitor to Italy when he took on the Irish job. But of course Norn Irons unionist knuckle-draggers see O’Neill (64 appearances as a player for Norn Iron) as a traitor.

Martin O’Neill is just two months older than me. He was born in Kilrea, County Derry but spent his teen years in North Belfast. He passed his 11-plus in the same year as me. He went to Grammar School…St Malachys and did his A Levels in 1970.
He was already playing Irish League Football for Distillery. I saw him play on a few occasions.
He enrolled to study Law at Queens University but the Troubles had started in 1969….and in 1971 he was offered professional terms with Nottingham Forest in England.
Any young man with any talent would have done the same. Significantly his family all went.
And he had a very successful career…two European Cups with Nottingham Forest and sixty four appearances for Norn Iron. And of course a successful managerial career…with a talent for making the most of mediocre teams.

So I “get” 61 year old Martin O’Neill. Not that much different from a Catholic grammar schoolboy like myself.
Except of course that he could play football.
It is amazing how few of my generation actually stayed in Belfast.
Theres sometimes a way out….Sport. Education.

So maybe its a generational thing. The BBC interviewer last week asked Martin…as a Gaelic football playing schoolboy in County Derry, would he have supported Norn Iron or the Republic of Ireland.
The best answer is NO ANSWER.
Martin O’ Neill could have said “no comment…I dont want to be drawn into that”.
Or he could have waffled.
Instead he just completely ignored the question.
That said all.

For like I said …Martin O’Neill is not much different from me.
He played for Distillery and I watched him play for Distillery. And he …like me…would have known that Distillery was the local team, briefly challenging “orange” Linfields dominance.
I cant remember if Martin played on the Distillery team in the 1969 Cup Final (against Ards) but I was there on the Spion Kop at Windsor Park when the bottles rained down on us from the Main Stand. Ards AND Linfield supporters. Id actually forgotten how the most foul mouthed sectarian abuse can come from “respectable” middle aged men in the better seats.
And I note that the RUC baton charged Distillery fans.
Thats how it was in 1969.
And it was twenty five years before I was back in Windsor Park. Took one of my sons (then aged 8) to see Norn Iron play Romania.
But in the 1970s and 1980s Martin O’Neill was playing for Norn Iron.
and he would have heard the songs and the chants.
And of course as manager at (Glasgow) Celtic.
I cant read Martin O’Neills mind but as a teenager …the Republic of Ireland seemed a distant place. Customs officers checking insurance documentation etc made it near impossible to visit.
The Football Team was referred to as “Eire” and we knew little about it. Ironically in Footballing terms “Norn Iron” was simply referred to as “Ireland”.
Funny how this generational change has come about.
And of course back in the 1960s Martin O’Neill was compelled to give up Gaelic Football by the GAA because he plYed a “foreign game”.
So a young man from Kilrea in 2013 has more choices and no difficult ones.
He can play Gaelic Football and that “foreign game” (Football, Soccer).
he can opt to play for Ireland ( previously Eire) or Norn Iron (previously Ireland). The dinosaurs in Windsor Avenue committee rims and the knuckle draggers in Windsor Park have practically ensured that he will exercise the Dublin option.
Which is bad news for LetsGetAlongerist sporting types who think that northern nationalists have some kinda duty to make Norn Iron a homogenous place.

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13 Responses to On The One Road

  1. Ronan Burns says:

    Martin O’Neill was not forced to give up gaelic football “in the 1960s” because of the GAA ban on foreign games. In August 1970 Martin O’Neill was captain of the Derry minor football team which was beaten by Kerry in the All-Ireland minor football semi-final. In that match Martin O’Neill missed a penalty.

    He may have been banned later. If so, he would have been one of the last players to be banned under that rule which was abolished at Easter 1971 at the GAA Congress in Queens University, Belfast.

  2. Niall O'Donnell says:

    I believe Martin attended St. Columb’s College in Derry after his 11plus.

  3. Political Tourist says:

    Didn’t the NI football team play it’s first few games in a blue strip.
    Also was there not an attempt to change the name to Ulster.

    • I dont know about the “blue strip”.
      I dont think there was ever any organised campaign to change the name of the NI team to “Ulster” but certainly the nastier elements of Norn Irons support, did like to chant “Ulster” in the 1980s and 1990s.
      Around the time of the bizarre exhibition to “celebrate” Norn Iron (Ulster 71), there was an element that wanted the official name changed.
      The BBC even conducted some street interviews outside the old GPO in Belfast (now Castle Court Shopping Centre).
      Asking one teenager (Jamie Bryson’s grandfather maybe) if he would like the name to be “Northern Ireland” or “Ulster”….he replied “Ulster”.
      “Why? ” said the interviewer.
      “Because its more Praddistant like”.

      That was the last interview in the sequence and back in the Studio. News anchor, Larry McCoubrey just turned his eyes to heaven.

  4. bangordub says:

    Excellent and informative article Mr Fitz. I enjoyed that.
    Your substantive point regarding there being a de-facto Ireland team is one I agree with and it has come about by increments but primarily because of the attitudes of certain unionist fans and administrators in the North. It is good to see. There seems to be a ” everyone hates us and we don’t care” approach which of course, has consequences.

    • Well I certainly hate them LOL.
      The point is that there are two models for a Norn Iron team. One is the favoured sectarian model of their vociferous supporters. The other the LetsGetAlongerist model “too little too late”.
      People will claim that the sectarian element is not the majority…they would claim the same for Orange Culture…but ultimately Sectarianism can never be separated from anything in Norn Iron or Orange.
      Basically I dont want to support the same footy team as Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer or Edwin Poots.

    • boondock says:

      There isn’t quite a defacto all Ireland just yet. You could only make such a claim when someone like Johnny Evans (one of themmuns) declares for the republic you could say Alan Kernaghen crossed the divide but he only swapped because norn iron didn’t want him as although brought up in Bangor wasn’t born here ~ Muppets now look at the ifa poor Michael o Neil has searched every corner of these isles and not found one single New player wanting to declare for the North. Hey if only they actually did something about a flag anthem and stadium and not taken the fai to court which massively backfired then Gibson McLean and Wilson could have stayed giving the spine of a half decent team. If norn iron continue to become another San Marino and the republic can become competitive again then the above scenario might just happen and that would probably be the final nail in the coffin for the ifa team. By the way I do still like to see norn iron do well because I do like the players and the current manager and most of the fans are decent folk its only the blazers and a small section of the fans that ruin everything

  5. Political Tourist says:

    One and only time i was in Linfield’s stadium was October 67 for an international match, i was taken along by my father.
    NI won 1-0, only knew the score by looking it up on the net.
    Dave Clements, a Coventry player born in Larne scored the goal.
    Made a mistake of asking my father why everybody was wearing Rangers scarfs and getting a nudge that meant shut it.
    Can still remember by at the front and the biggest fence i’d seen keeping you from entering the field of play.
    The stats claim there was crowd of 55,000 there that day.
    Very much “the past is another country” memory.
    Maybe FJH was there that Saturday to watch a chap called George Best.

    • Yes I was. if that was the one where George Best tortured Tommy Gemmell.
      I was also there when that Best goal against England was disallowed because he kicked the ball out of Gordon Banks hands.
      last game I actually saw in those days was Wales 0-0…it was my birthday.
      I suppose that was AFTER the Irish Cup Final that I referred to above.

  6. Political Tourist says:

    1967, my father must have won money the books.
    Flying to Belfast on a day trip.
    The old Aldergrove Airport.
    A shop on a main road that had an old cannon outside.
    The young fella that wanted to swap his green and white rosette.
    No thanks, might be green and white but there’s something not quite right about this.
    46 years ago.
    Wonder what happened to the young fella.

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