'For me, eligibility should not be a political issue'

2018-03-12 14:49:39

Michael O'Neill does not believe the FAI are breaking any rules in their recruitment of players from Northern Ireland, but is concerned that talented footballers are paying a heavy price by switching allegiances.

The Northern Ireland manager read a prepared statement ahead of today's squad announcement for a friendly against South Korea. This followed on from last week's Irish Daily Mail interview in which he suggested the FAI only ever approach Catholic players .

The former Shamrock Rovers manager insisted eligibility should be a football issue and "should not be a political issue, nor should it be a religious issue".

Martin O'Neill last week responded to his counterpart's "unexpected" comments, saying he had never taken a senior player from Northern Ireland system .

Michael O'Neill stated his unhappiness with how his comments were presented and said the statement would be his only comment on the issue.

Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill have disagreed publicly on matter of eligibility

His statement is below in full, as reported by The Belfast Telegraph.

"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 said.

"This will be the last time that I discuss this issue in public as my views are continually misrepresented 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.

"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."

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