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Michael O'Neill insists 'Jimmy Dunne is no different to Northern Ireland than Declan Rice is to the Republic'

The manager admitted he did not expect the Dundalk-born defender to declare for Northern Ireland.

Dunne celebrates scoring for Burnley during a pre-season friendly in July.
Dunne celebrates scoring for Burnley during a pre-season friendly in July.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

MICHAEL O’NEILL said he was happy for promising Burnley prospect Jimmy Dunne after the defender was called into a recent Republic of Ireland senior squad, admitting that chances of the 21-year-old playing for the North were slim.

Dunne is currently on loan at Scottish Premiership side Hearts, with the player last week named in Martin O’Neill’s preliminary squad for the upcoming double-header against Northern Ireland and Denmark.

The player was dropped from this week’s final 29-man squad, intensifying suggestions that he could represent the North via the grandparent rule, with the Louth native having spoken with Michael O’Neill in Edinburgh about the possibility.

Accrington Stanley v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League Two - Wham Stadium Dunne made 20 appearances on loan with Accrington Stanley last season. Source: Dave Howarth

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s friendly at the Aviva Stadium, however, the Northern Ireland manager said that he did not expect the player to phone him and declare for his side over the Republic.

Jimmy Dunne made it known that he would be interested in a conversation with me. I had a conversation with Jimmy and if you look at the situation, Jimmy Dunne is no different to Northern Ireland than Declan Rice is to the Republic of Ireland — he’s eligible through grandparents,” said O’Neill.

“It’s the same scenario. The boy himself, we don’t want anyone to make a rash decision, particularly a young player who has a chance to play for the country they were born in. It’s not a decision made easily.

“You see the same with Declan Rice, a young English player with the chance to play for England, so with Jimmy it’s fine. I’m delighted he got the call-up.”

Michael O'Neill Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was speaking at the Aviva Stadium ahead of tomorrow's friendly. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Dundalk-born defender has impressed while on loan at Hearts this season, with the player having joined Burnley from Manchester United on a free transfer in July 2016.

However his omission from Martin O’Neill’s final squad this week came as a surprise to many, given that it was the 21-year-old’s first senior international call-up.

He is a player who, like any player that has eligibility to play for Northern Ireland, we’ll keep tabs on him,” reflected Michael O’Neill. “But I wouldn’t expect Jimmy to phone me and say that he is coming to play for Northern Ireland.”

The manager added that it was his job to try and get the best players to play for his side and that keeping up-to-date with all footballers who were eligible to play for Northern Ireland was important to the country’s success.

“I think it’s the nature of international football now. The rules aren’t the same for all countries either, so that’s important. But at the end of the day we explore any player that has a bloodline to play for Northern Ireland.

Jimmy Dunne Dunne made his Ireland U21 debut against Iceland back in March. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“We try and develop our players — we’ve seven U21 players in our squad today, most of those are home-grown players. We have players who have come out of our domestic Irish League and forged careers in England.

“So I think that international football is about trying to get as many players as you have available to you. Outside of the squad of 29 players that we have, I think there are maybe three or four more players that I can consider.

“Every player that has the possibility to play for us is very important. We follow their careers very closely and the opportunity to play international football is there for them and they will get that opportunity very quickly with Northern Ireland.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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