Michael O'Neill accuses FAI of targeting Catholic players to declare for Republic

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has claimed the Football Association of Ireland targets Catholic players to switch allegiance and play for the Republic.

Players born in Northern Ireland are eligible to represent the Republic and O'Neill, who recently penned a contract extension with the Irish Football Association, is peeved at losing potential future senior internationals to the Republic.

James McClean, Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson, Eunan O'Kane and Marc Wilson - senior internationals with Martin O'Neill's Republic side - all represented Northern Ireland at youth level before they transferred.

Michael O'Neill has decried the situation by criticising the FAI's approach.

In an interview with the Irish Daily Mail, the Northern Irish boss, who is Catholic himself, said: "The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic.

"I don't have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it's a 16, 17 or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.

"What is the point of asking a player to change his allegiance, to make a decision about his whole international future, and then not pick him?

"Daniel Devine of Partick Thistle is a West Belfast boy and would have gone to the Euros with us. Only he can't play for Northern Ireland as he's signed an international transfer. I can list you 10 players who've made that decision and have never represented the Republic."

O'Neill went on to add he did not fear Paul Smyth, a Northern Ireland Under-21 international who scored on his QPR debut in January, would switch to the Republic ahead of an expected senior call-up later this year.

However, he intends to speak with his Republic counterpart Martin O'Neill - himself a former Northern Ireland international - about the situation.

"I hope that Martin and I can get some sort of gentleman's agreement whereby if a young boy has represented Northern Ireland at aged 17 to 21, the FAI don't ask him to change," Michael O'Neill added.

Northern Ireland will meet the Republic of Ireland in a Dublin friendly in November.

The FAI for has been contacted for comment.

- PA


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