24 hours ahead of Irish football’s latest big showdown (and on the day when Nigel walked from Windsor), the IFA’s elite player mentor, Gerry Armstrong, has signalled a volte face in the approach of the northern football authorities to the issue of player eligibility, complaining that players are being asked at too young an age to decide to represent the Republic of Ireland.
Slugger regulars will know that, previously, the IFA complained that youngsters were entering into their youth structures before switching to represent the Republic, and in the process taking up places which could have been reserved for players wishing to proceed to represent Northern Ireland when they grew older. (Daniel Collins’ piece remains the most comprehensive and impressive analysis of the eligibility dispute to date.)
Here’s a quote from soon-to-be ex-international manager, Nigel Worthington:
“It’s frustrating and disappointing that a lot of time, energy, commitment and finance goes into these players over a period of years and then when they are 17, 18, 19 or even 20, there is the opportunity for them, because of the ruling, to vacate to another country,” he said.
And here’s a quote from the Our Wee Country-aligned GAWA blog on the matter:
A few of the players in question have stated that they support the Republic of Ireland which they have a right to do, however, why waste the Irish Football Association’s time and money in playing for the Northern Ireland youth sides if this is the case? Using scarce funds (which the fans contribute to through ticket and merchandise sales) in their training and travel to then ‘jump ship’ after representing Northern Ireland is wrong. Taking the place of another player who actually wants to represent Northern Ireland is wrong.
And recently retired NI captain, Aaron Hughes (7 mins in) lamented the fact that players were taking up places in the youth structure before departing for the Republic:
“They’ve come up through the youth system….and all of a sudden they go….they’re also taking a spot and playing in a team where someone is missing out on the chance to get some caps, to learn experience…if they make that decision a bit earlier, then give someone else a chance to further their career.”
Of course, this has not prevented Northern Ireland from calling up for international duties players who have gone through the youth structures of other international sides. But clearly that’s a side issue…
But it does suggest some confusion within IFA ranks over how to deal with the issue, with the man tasked with halting the flow of players to the Republic shunning the earlier strategy of attempting to curry sympathy by complaining about players availing of places in underage sides now making an issue of efforts to ensure such players enter the Republic’s youth structures.