Ryan Byrne/INPHO Martin and Michael.

'I haven't taken a senior player' - Martin O'Neill upset with Michael for bringing religion into allegiance debate

The Republic of Ireland manager was responding to an interview his counterpart did earlier this week.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND manager Martin O’Neill has today expressed his disappointment at recent comments made by Northern Ireland counterpart Michael O’Neill.

The ex-Shamrock Rovers boss accused the FAI of poaching players based on the fact that they are Catholic in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail earlier this week.

Michael went on to claim he could list ten names who switched allegiance to the Republic without ever going on to earn a cap at senior level.

Those born in the North are eligible to play for the Republic due to a rule introduced as a result of the Good Friday agreement and current players James McClean, Shane Duffy and Eunan O’Kane have all declared for the Boys in Green having represented the North at underage.

However, speaking at this afternoon’s press conference in Dublin, where he announced a 30-man squad for the upcoming friendly against Turkey, Martin explained that he was surprised by the remarks.

“I’ve no problem with that [discussing an agreement],” O’Neill said today.

“I do have a problem with the unexpected nature of the comments. If they are remarks on my time here, I think that would be untrue. I haven’t even taken a player away from him at senior level, but I’ve no problem having a discussion.”

Asked would he meet Michael, he replied:

“Funnily enough, I did meet him at a game quite recently. We were watching Fulham play at Craven Cottage. We had a very trivial conversation and he never mentioned these points — I wish he had done privately.

“It was a surprise, but I’ve had a conversation with him since and he has admitted that I have not taken a senior player from him. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as Alex Bruce went to him in my time here.

I’ve no problem having a conversation about underage level, but to bring religion into it… I think that’s something you have to ask Michael about.

“I played for Northern Ireland 60-odd times, I was captain loads of times during one of the most successful periods. Not only did we have great players from both sides of the religious divide, but we had a great camaraderie.

“It’s very disappointing. The most important issue is that I’ve never chosen a player on anything other than merit, and it is the player’s choice with these issues.”

On the rule that allows players to switch nations until they make a senior competitive appearance, O’Neill added that it’s a two-way street.

“We’ve lost players ourselves. A young lad who played underage for us [Marcus McGuane] made his debut for Barcelona last night, but he’s gone on to choose England. You have to accept that, it’s entirely the player’s choice.”

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