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Stephen Mallon playing for the Republic of Ireland U21s at the 2019 Toulon Tournament.
Stephen Mallon playing for the Republic of Ireland U21s at the 2019 Toulon Tournament.
Image: TGSPHOTO/Paul Dennis/INPHO

Republic of Ireland U21 winger Mallon switches allegiance to Northern Ireland

The Sheffield United player, who’s on loan at Derry City, says the decision is ‘a good footballing move’.
Sep 1st 2020, 11:03 AM 14,844 24

STEPHEN MALLON WON’T be featuring for the Republic of Ireland at international level again after committing to representing Northern Ireland instead.

The Belfast native was capped by the North’s U15s but has since played for the Republic at U18, U19 and U21 level.

“I haven’t just come up with it and made the decision within a week or whatever,” he explained to The Derry Journal. “It’s been thought out over a year.”

The Sheffield United winger, who’s currently on loan at Derry City, won two Republic of Ireland U21 caps under Stephen Kenny in 2019.

Kenny has now moved on to take the senior job, with Jim Crawford succeeding him in the U21 role. Crawford initially omitted Mallon from a squad that assembled this week for a training camp, before issuing a call-up for the 21-year-old after several players withdrew. Mallon then disclosed his switch of allegiance.

He said: “I had a conversation with Stephen Kenny today and let him know I’ve made my decision. He said he was disappointed but wished me well.

“He knew it was a hard decision for me. It took me over a year to make and it wasn’t something which came lightly. It’s been a family decision.

“It’s more of a decision made with my head rather than my heart. I’ve grown up always wanting to play for Ireland but I feel switching to Northern Ireland is a good footballing move for me.”

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In the semi-finals of last year’s Toulon Tournament against Brazil, Mallon started in a Republic of Ireland U21 side that included Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah, Jayson Molumby, Dara O’Shea and Caoimhin Kelleher, all of whom are with Stephen Kenny’s senior squad ahead of Thursday’s Uefa Nations League game against Bulgaria.

“I know I still have to be on top of my game and perform every week to get into the Northern Ireland side, but I feel there’s a clearer pathway for me there,” he said.

Mallon, who has yet to make a first-team breakthrough at Sheffield United, is contracted to the English Premier League club until next summer. He also previously had a spell on loan in Australia with A-League club Central Coast Mariners.

Oxford United’s Mark Sykes, a 23-year-old midfielder born in Belfast, recently opted to declare for the Republic of Ireland, despite playing for Northern Ireland at U21 level, as well as being included in several of their senior squads.

Mallon added: “It’s not about religion or anything like that. This is a football decision. I grew up supporting Ireland and watching Ireland games and wanted to play for them, but I feel Northern Ireland is a better option for me.

“There are not many U21 games left so it was best to make a decision and get myself settled into the squad and push on. The plan is to progress and get my first senior cap but I need to be on top of my game at Derry.

“It’s not easier with Northern Ireland. I have to give 100% because a senior cap would be a massive achievement.”

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