Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill denies attacking FAI over player eligibility

Jamal Lewis has been called up by Northern Ireland

Jamal Lewis has been called up by Northern Ireland

Jamal Lewis and Conor Hazard are new faces in the Northern Ireland squad for the friendly against South Korea in Belfast later this month.

Co. Armagh native O'Neill claimed in a Daily Mail interview that the Republic of Ireland only ever approach Catholic players from Northern Ireland.

"For me, eligibility is not and should not be a political issue, nor should it be a religious issue".

In the statement, he said he was pleased that his "counterpart at the FAI" had indicated his willingness to meet and discuss the matter.

Martin O'Neill, who says the two met recently at a game but that the issue was not brought up, seemed open to the notion when he spoke at his own squad announcement last week but did accept that there were practical and other problems in any attempt to limit a player's ability to exercise his rights under Federation Internationale de Football Association regulations.

O'Neill continued: "During a recent interview, I was questioned about the issue of eligibility".

The Northern Ireland manager said that this is the final time he will discuss the issue in public "as my views are continually misrepresented by sections of the media". I will not be taking any questions other than in relation to the upcoming game against South Korea. Contrary to how it was reported, I did not attack the FAI, I merely responded to the questions I was asked. It is clear to me that given the examples that Martin used in his press conference that he misunderstood the issues that I wish to address.

"For me, eligibility is a football issue".

"We respect that young players who represent Northern Ireland at underage level have the right to choose to play for the Republic". Nor have I ever been critical of a player for exercising that right.

"Where I am critical of the FAI is the way in which it now communicates with the IFA over a player who potentially wishes to make a transfer".

He suggested that his main problem with the FAI is the area of communication when it comes to pursuing players that have already played underage for Northern Ireland. I am not talking about senior players but those aged 17 to 21 born in Northern Ireland.

"I've seen a heavy price paid by too many talented young players - players who have transferred their allegiance to a country that ultimately doesn't rate them nor play them, creating an worldwide vacuum for the player that signals a wholly different outcome to the career that they might have had".

The 48-year-old said he was appealing "for transparency and fairness at underage level".

"What we are asking for is that such a significant decision is neither influenced nor made until that player reaches senior age and is made at a time which is in the player's best interest".

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