'Support for an all-Ireland soccer team is growing'

Sinn Féin are hopeful that a move will happen in the near future.

A Shamrock Rovers XI who were effectively an all-Ireland XI played Brazil in the 1970s in a one-off game.
A Shamrock Rovers XI who were effectively an all-Ireland XI played Brazil in the 1970s in a one-off game.

SINN FÉIN HAVE called for the establishment of an all-Ireland soccer team as part of their newly released ‘Towards a United Ireland’ document.

While sports including hockey, rugby and boxing are arranged on an all-Ireland basis, Northern Ireland and the Republic are separate entities in soccer.

But the political party this weekend called for the two teams to be united, having been separate since the 1920s, when a dispute between soccer associates in Leinster and Ulster prompted a split between the organisations.

Sinn Finn argue: “Irish teams are stronger and better when they are all-Ireland teams. All-Ireland rugby teams have won Grand Slams and Triple Crowns, boxers have had international successes, Irish golfers are leading the way in that sport. As an all-Ireland organisation, the GAA has been unmatched by any other amateur sports organisation.

Support for an all-island soccer team is growing. It makes no sense to have two ‘national’ teams competing on the international stage and splitting the talent pool that exists. We are stronger, better and more successful together. Unity would generate more income for sports clubs and more opportunities for talented players.”

Speaking to The42, when asked for evidence to back up the claim that support for the initiative was growing, a spokesperson for the party said: “I suppose it’s anecdotal. You’d see people talking about it a lot more these days on different social media stuff and all of that.

I think it would be really interesting to see a poll, particularly around the soccer. We saw how well the North and the (Republic) did in the recent European Championships. Most people, putting politics aside, would say ‘imagine if you put the two together and picked the best team from the two’. Most people would say that would have potential to be even better.”

Some feel an all-Ireland soccer team is unlikely to happen anytime soon — Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney is on record as saying he would support the initiative, but feels it would only transpire in the event of a political union. However, recent suggestions that Brexit could bring about a United Ireland have left others feeling more optimistic.

A United Ireland is truly on the agenda now. It’s a topic of discussion. The Taoiseach at the weekend mentioned that in the light of Brexit, there’s an uncomplicated answer to the problems.

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“So now more and more people are looking towards a United Ireland and the benefits that will bring.

We’ve looked at the economic benefits for it over the past week but there are also benefits for sport. And in the context of a united Ireland, you would have a united football team — one follows the other.”

One other concern expressed is the potential loss of jobs should the Irish Football Association and FAI merge into one organisation, but the Sinn Féin spokesperson thinks it is unlikely to be a major issue.

“I don’t feel that there would be huge job losses, but I haven’t myself looked into the ins and outs of that. Overall, if you’re talking about increased investment in sport, there’s probably no reason why there needs to be major job losses. We want to expand what we’re doing rather than cut back, but the mechanics of all that would have to be worked out at the time.”

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Paul Fennessy

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