IFA’s hard work undone by FAI magpies

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Martin O'Neill has boldly thrown McLean into the Sunderland side.

It is fair to say that the elevation of James McLean to the Sunderland first team has been one of the most uplifting aspects of the remarkable way Martin O’Neill has revitalized the club since succeeding Steve Bruce as manager. The boldness of O’Neill’s decision to throw the Derry-born 22 year old into the side as soon as he took over was as admirable as the way McLean has acquitted himself ever since getting his chance against Blackburn Rovers in December. The comfort level he’s enjoyed in the Premier League is a tribute to the player and also to the League of Ireland from which he was sprung just last summer.

Of course, no sooner had McLean started a game than the speculation began about whether he should be going to the Euros with Ireland this summer. The jury remains out on whether he’s up to making that jump this early in his development even if the story has legs mostly because he used to play for Northern Ireland. In any case, all previous evidence regarding Trapattoni’s rather conservative approach to squad selection suggests this debate seems to be moot. Does anybody really see the Italian catapulting somebody onto the plane after half a season starting in England?

That said, there is something troubling about McLean’s emergence. It’s not that his raw talent doesn’t bode well for the future. Or that he looks like he may become the type of player who could be pivotal to the Republic’s campaigns over the next decade. It’s about his background. Here is a player whose development as a footballer had very little if anything to do with the FAI. They may well give him an FAI blazer this summer but it won’t change the fact he was born and bred under the auspices of the IFA.

Think about it. McLean grew up in the Creggan in Derry city. Indeed, it’s uplifting to read locals up there talk about seeing this player put in so much extra work over the years to try to make it in the game. But he played all of his soccer in his formative years with Trojans, a club that play in the Derry and District League, a competition which ultimately is overseen by the IFA. Like any promising kid in Northern Ireland, he saw action in the Milk Cup, the annual festival of international football that takes place there. He played for Northern Ireland in that event.

My point here is that McLean’s arrival on the scene looks like being a boon for the Irish team going forward. However, the FAI can take no credit for the emergence of what looks like being our newest creative threat. The only time the FAI ever had any input into McLean’s career was when he played for Derry City in the League of Ireland. Other than that admittedly crucial stage in his development, everything else that went into making this guy the player he is was down to the structures and coaching available in Northern Ireland.

Why is this important? It’s important because qualifying for the European Championships this summer is going to gloss over a lot of what is wrong with the game in Ireland. The country will wring so much fun out of the fortnight in Poland that it will seem churlish to point out the conveyor belt of Irish talent isn’t exactly overworked of late. And hasn’t been for some time. The FAI can take credit for McLean switching allegiances but they made no contribution to his growth as a player and that is, unfortunately, part of a disturbing pattern.

By any objective estimate, Spartak Moscow’s Aiden McGeady and Wigan Athletic’s James McCarthy are two of the brighter, young Irish talents. Again, the FAI had nothing to do with them emerging as quality players. They were born and, as footballers at least, made in Scotland. The SFA’s structures and competitions are what helped them become the exciting prospects they are today. The FAI did well to get them to come on board but, again, that’s all they did.  The same story applies to Shane Duffy.

Over the past couple of weeks, Duffy has starred for an injury-hit Everton, playing like a veteran central defender despite the fact he’s just 20. Already, there’s a sense around Goodison Park that this guy could turn into a true stalwart. This will benefit Ireland hugely but he’s a Northern Ireland product. Aside from learning his trade with Foyle Harps in Derry, Duffy played alongside McLean for the Northern Ireland U-19s in the 2008 Milk Cup. Indeed, that was where and when Everton spotted his ability and started to go after his signature.

Against this background, it’s easy to see why Northern Ireland and Scotland are getting annoyed. They invest hugely in their coaching structures and in their competitions in order to afford their players the opportunity to learn and grow. Then they watch the Republic of Ireland swoop in and take advantage of all the work they put in. Essentially, the FAI are the magpies of underage football, waiting and watching before prowling. Yes, we know it’s legal and players can pick and choose their national allegiances within the rules but there’s something even more worrying here.

Why aren’t there more players born in the Republic of Ireland coming through to star for Premier League clubs and to knock on the doors of the international squad? How come a tiny place like Northern Ireland can produce McLean and Duffy (and even Darron Gibson now that he looks like becoming a player again!) in such a short spell? What are the Scots doing so right than they end up bringing forth the likes of McGeady and McCarthy? Aside from Seamus Coleman, where are the Irish equivalents? Where are the Roy Keanes, the Damien Duffs and the Robbie Keanes of this generation? Are they there at all or do we have to wait for Northern Ireland to put in more work so the FAI can pick the low-hanging fruit?


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19 thoughts on “IFA’s hard work undone by FAI magpies

  1. Tschussie says:

    Where is the evidence that the FAI are making first contact with these players as you seem to imply in this article?

  2. Niall Freyne says:

    McCLean has stated that one of the main reasons he switched to Ireland was because he was annoyed that the English national anthem was played before matches for the north.
    If the north want to keep their players it might be worth starting with the anthem. How could anyone from Derry be motivated by the English anthem when representing their country.

  3. andy says:

    God save the Queen is not the English national anthem, it is the national anthem of the UK, of which Northern Ireland is a part. It is not the foreign anthem that you suggest it is. Besides, I fully believe the playing of GSTQ at NI games has no bearing on his switch to ROI, it is merely a convenient excuse, he would have chosen to play for the south anyway. The same applies to Gibson and Duffy and all the other defectors. If he really wanted to play for NI he would not be put off by a song sung at the beginning of each match

  4. Andy says:

    If McClean is bigoted enough to use an anthem as an excuse then good riddance, ifa have worked hard to get rid of sectarianism in football so getting a bigot out of the ranks is welcomed.

    Bit harsh to target all of Derry as bigoted Niall not everyone has the same blinkered view as you

  5. jj says:

    First of all it is not the english national anthem, but the british national anthem, not completely unacceptable given that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. But I would like to see a new anthem representing only Northern Ireland, just like Scotland and Wales.
    McLean seemed to find motivation enough to play for NI at under age level…so what changed?
    Where is the harm in being Irish and representing the part of Ireland that you are from?
    They FAI shed tears crying for justice and integrity in the game when Henry controlled a ball with his hand yet I hear no calls for integrity when they are picking players from Northern Ireland youth teams…

  6. dan says:

    McClean had no issue with the UK national anthem when he represented Northern Ireland 7 times at U21 level. Stop making excuses for his shameful betrayal of the IFA and the NI fans who invested in his development.. If his principles were so strong, he’d have refused his under 21 caps and let another lad, proud to play for his country, have the chance to develop his career instead.

  7. parklife says:

    Tschussie – there is loads of evidence that the FAI are making first contact, the coaches and officials of the FAI have inadvertantly let this slip on many occasion, as have the players themselves who have ‘gone south’. And there also seems to be shadowy ‘intermediaries’ or ‘community representatives’ facilitating the hook-ups.
    Niall Freyne- Its not the English National Anthem, its the British National Anthem,and there are people in Derry who call it L’Derry and tip thier hat to the British National anthem. Apart from that I largely agree with you, as do many many Northern Ireland fans – a large minority, perhaps even a majority of fans have wished there to be a Northern Ireland specific football anthem to be played before matches for years and years now.

  8. Ryan Kelly says:

    I have to disagree completely with the sentiment expressed here. It is simplistic and ultimately ignorant of the facts of the matter.

    You overstate the significance of the IFA’s input as well as that of the SFA regarding McGeady and McCarthy who actually played with the FAI from U17 upwards.

    I urge you to read Daniel Collins’ essay on the matter. It will enlighten you: http://playereligibilityinireland.blogspot.com/2011/06/fifa-player-eligibility-in-context-of.html

  9. Shane Houston says:

    McClean’s development had very little to do with the IFA either. An odd appearance at underage level was about the height of it. It’s strange that both the IFA & SFA see little wrong in Raiding England for English youth internationals, yet moan when an Irishman opts to play for the team he has always followed and supported.

    Phil Bardsley, Lee Camp, Maik Taylor, James Morrison the list goes on….

    I think you will find that ‘the Magpies’ of the IFA & SFA are very active!

  10. David Wylie says:

    Niall, God Save the Queen isn’t the English anthem; it’s the anthem of the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland is part. These are the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as enshrined in the Belfast Agreement of 1998. James McClean not playing for NI because he doesn’t like the 30 second tune played at the start of games displays an alarming lack of tolerance for both democracy and his fellow countrymen.

    I can understand why nationalists from Northern Ireland would ideally prefer to play for a 32-country Ireland team. But in the absence of that team, choosing the partitioned 26-country RoI team that the player isn’t from over the 6-county partitioned NI team that the player is from, reeks of uninformed sectarianism, unabashed gloryhunting, or a combination of the two.

  11. Ciaran McCauley says:

    Where are the Irish products the article asks?

    Like Robbie Brady, Greg Cunningham, Conor Clifford, Graham Burke, Derrick Williams, Daniel Devine, Conor Henderson?

    Oh wait, maybe it was English clubs who trained them…

    So how about Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, Enda Stevens and even James McCLEAN (cripes), a player who was trained by Derry City FC (and continually ignored for senior caps by Nigel Worthington, take their oil as we say in Derry).

    The IFA have had very little input in McClean’s development beyond a few underage caps. By the same measure Asmir Begovic is a Premiership quality keeper thanks to those fantastic Canuck goalkeeping coaches in Canada. What a weird argument.

  12. IsMiseSean says:

    I think you’ve left a few important facts from your so called article…

    James McCarthy has played for Ireland since U16 level. Johnny Gorman played U16 for Ireland before switching to the North.
    Alex Bruce has switched from Ireland to the North.
    It works both ways.
    Oh and James McClean is Irish not British/Northern Irish so why shouldn’t he played for IRELAND!

  13. Tim says:

    Michael Keane played for Ireland at U17, U18 & U19 level but as recently switched to England.

    Our next generation stars will include. Matt Doherty, Anthony Forde both recently broken into the Wolves first team.
    Conor Clifford just signed a 2yr contract with Chelsea.
    Robbie Brady (Man Utd) & Enda Stevens (Villa)
    I could go on all day…

  14. IsMiseSean says:

    I see my post got removed for stating un used facts left out by the author…

  15. Kyle says:

    Tschussie, there is a mountain of clear evidence of this, but it seems you have no interest in seeing it. A number of the defectors have openly admitted that they were approached, including Gibson, Wilson, McClean, Kearns and O’Kane. The FAI publicly stated that they sent Mick Martin to see Shane Ferguson, and Liam Brady to see Shane Duffy. Chris Baird has also stated that he was approached by the FAI.

    If you can’t find any evidence of the poaching yourself, allow me to point you in the direction of Google.

  16. stevieb says:

    @Niall Feryne. This would be the same anthem that he had no problem standing for when it appeared he wasn’t good enough to be selected for any Republic of Ireland team. By the way, I do agree the anthem of United Kingdom (it isn’t the English Anthem) shouldn’t be played before Northern Ireland games; however McClean is using this as an excuse when it suits him. Is this issue much different that the one faced by those from Ulster who represent Ireland in Rugby. At home matches, Amhrán na bhFiann is played and the irish tri-colour flown (amoungst other flags, none of which include the northern Ireland flag), both symbols of a state which they don’t identify with. My point is, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. In reference to the article; while I don’t really care about the plight of the FAI and their inability to bring through talent of their own, it does highlgiht the predatory nature of the FAI.
    @Tschussie. I don’t know if you recall the recent tug of war over Shane Ferguson where the Republic of Ireland coaching staff came out and said they were aware of the potential of Shane and that they had made contact with him with regards to switching allegiances. I fail to see why they would make approaches in one case and not in another.

  17. Sean says:

    I understand the differances of fai and ifa being repoted here. From the fai they’ve done well. Bigger pool to chose from. IFA, its sad. Half want ot be brit, half want to be mick. If I was a brit, I’d never want to play for fai. If I was mick, it’d be the fai for me. Both of ye are crap, grow up. What it comes down to is a bunch of old cronies trying to gold ont their little positions in both fa’s. They use the bull to keep themselves going. As George said, better just one, they’d both be better for it

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  19. cluster says:

    It is clear that Northern Ireland is a special case and that issues surrounding identity are more tricky and contested there than in many other places. So it seems senseless to complain about people considering themselves Irish deciding to play for Ireland.

    It works both ways. All sorts of people have been facilitated by Irish sports and educational institutions before going on to contribute their working lives instead to NI or the UK.

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