|Former Derry City and current Sunderland player, James McClean|
It’s an issue that was seemingly resolved in the summer of 2010, but the practice of Irish nationals playing for the Irish national team (that is, the FAI) amazingly continues to incite a capricious whirlwind of hysterical furore.
Over a year later and there still exists a hardcore element of the Northern Ireland support who maintain that, somehow, FIFA are acting contrary to their own rules and mindlessly facilitating a so-called “loop-hole”, despite the numerous clarifications that have since surfaced. The Belfast Telegraph, known to be extremely sympathetic to the IFA’s cause, is possibly one of the chief offenders in this regard, continuously peddling myths and misinformation about the “eligibility row”. It is simply perturbing to think that such ignorance prevails in a period where information is so readily available. These ignorant hacks could do everyone a favour and educate themselves by having a read of Daniel Collins’ extensive article, Player Eligibility in the Context of Ireland. Or, if their political sensibilities are easily upset, they could simply read over the report issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the aftermath of the IFA -v- Daniel Kearns case. It’s obvious that many have not.
For some, while the issue of eligibility is settled, the idea that the “flow” needs to be “stemmed” is beginning to emerge. The IFA has employed former Northern Ireland international, Gerry Armstrong, as a kind of pastoral officer (humorously titled “Elite Player Mentor”) whose objective is to dissuade potential “defectors”. Armstrong is said to come from a nationalist background, but he has been vocal in his support of the IFA.
“If a player wants to play for the Republic of Ireland then that is his view and he’s entitled to it but we need to cast the net wide and make sure players feel a sense of belonging with Northern Ireland… Perhaps peer pressure is influencing them but we need to talk to them, understand why they are thinking the way they are and encourage them that they can wear the Northern Ireland shirt with pride.”