As the build-up to the first international date of 2010 nears, inevitably, there will be much interest into the names of those who get call-ups. It is a World Cup year after all.
Sadly for Northern Ireland, the focus is not on South Africa, but Poland and Ukraine, and the qualifiers for Euro 2012.
But sadder than that, is that the attention is not on who is in the squad for next week’s friendly against Albania, but rather, who isn’t in it.
Shane Duffy of Everton and Marc Wilson of Portsmouth would have been expected to in the squad, if it wasn’t for the fact that they have declared to play for the Republic of Ireland, despite representing Northern Ireland at various underage levels.
So, it appears this agreement in 2007 which the IFA said at the time was “A satisfactory agreement”
Is it satisfactory that over two years later, the Northern Ireland national team is still getting shafted in terms of players?
This is a massive test for the IFA, and one that they dare not fail. Having already descended the Irish Cup into farce with their inability to promptly deal with the Newry v Larne violence in an appropriate timeframe, which could see a team paired against Coleraine or Loughgall or Newry or Larne in the Semi-Final draw.
If the IFA roll over on this issue, they will lose the respect and confidence of every football fan in Northern Ireland.
It’s sad that all the work the IFA has done at community level is being undone by the FAI, no doubt taking advantage of Northern Ireland’s troubled history.
Put simply, the FAI are acting like vultures over this issue. Call me cynical, but I seriously doubt the sales pitch they use to impressionable youngsters is that if they work hard and be dedicated, they could one day play on the same team as Sean St Ledger.
There is a massive difference between this and Jack Charlton’s Plastic Paddy’s in the 80s and 90s. The players he picked were all in the mid 20s, and deemed not good enough for the country they were born in. The likes of Wilson, Duffy and Darron Gibson were all wanted by Northern Ireland, yet the FAI just decided to take what they weren’t entitled to.
You would understand players defecting if the Republic of Ireland were serial qualifiers, they’re not. Slovenia, a country with only a couple of hundred thousand people more than Northern Ireland have qualified for three times as many tournaments since 1994 than the Republic of Ireland have.
It’s not as if it’s a case of ‘give and take’ with the player issue, it’s a total imbalance in favour of the Republic. Let’s be realistic here, no youngster from the Republic is going to ever declare for Northern Ireland.
The IFA must stand up to the FAI, nothing more than a bunch of school bullies, who think they can just steal what they like from a smaller kid.
And like any school bully, they are quite good at playing the victim and crying when they get a dose of their own medicine, like in Paris in November.
Feeling hard done after Thierry Henry’s handball in the build-up to William Gallas winning goal, FAI President John Delaney told anyone who would listen that the game should be replayed “For the sake of the integrity of football”
The French response was to shrug their shoulders and ignore the request. After trying to enlist the help of FIFA, they got told that there was nothing they could do.
After begging to get a wildcard entry, the FAI were then subject to worldwide ridicule when Sepp Blatter let the cat out of the bag. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
Well, thats how Northern Ireland fans feel everytime a player switched allegiance.
You would think being shat on from a great height by a bigger nation and finding that those who uphold the rules don’t want to know, the FAI would have some sort of empathy with their Northern counterparts.
Evidently not, they just carry on as they did before, with disregard for the IFA, brushing them aside arrogantly as if Northern Ireland is some sort of footballing non-entity who don’t deserve to have Premier League players play for them.
Put simply, if the IFA want to maintain the credibility of football in Northern Ireland, and their crediblity within football in Northern Ireland, they must stand up to the FAI and ensure this biased injustice and vulture culture is put to an immediate end.