It’s up to each player to make their choice

Shane Duffy. Photo: PA

It hasn’t gone away, you know.As the issue of players born in Northern Ireland opting to declare for the Republic rages on, one man who made that cross-border journey, Brighton defender Shane Duffy, has some strong views on the topic.

The Derry native insists that it’s his right to wear the green shirt of the FAI instead of the IFA’s kit.

Duffy also says that making changes to the football structure across the border, such as dropping God Save The Queen as the anthem played before Northern Ireland games, will make little difference.

The Derry native played for the North from U17 up to U21 levels and was once in their senior squad. But he never felt at home. Would the dropping of God Save The Queen have kept him in the bosom of the IFA?

Different

“No, because I am not Northern Irish, I am Irish,” Duffy told The Herald yesterday at his club’s training complex in Lancing, a small village outside Brighton.

“It’s just a different feeling. I am proud to play for Ireland, I played for Northern Ireland because I lived there but it’s a different feeling putting on the Irish shirt to any other shirt. And I would never change it.

“It’s not the same feeling. The North did a lot for me as a schoolboy and gave me the chance but it’s just not the same feeling. You always knew it wasn’t your country, especially being from Derry.

“You have got to know Derry to know what it means, and when you get the chance to go with Ireland, you take it.”

Duffy had played for Northern Ireland at U17, U19 and U21 levels and he was also called up for the senior squad, aged 17, in 2009.

Announcing his switch in 2010, Duffy bided his time in the the Republic’s U21s, with a debut away from the glare of publicity in a friendly away to Cyprus in 2011.

CONTROVERSY: Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill

He didn’t make his senior debut until 2014 but has since become a key player.

The IFA feel that the Republic claiming northern-born players who don’t have a “blood line” to the 26 counties is unfair but Duffy is eligible in any case as his dad, Brian, is from Donegal.

“My family is all Irish, my dad’s from Letterkenny, my mum was from Derry, but it was always a matter of time before I played for the Republic,” Duffy says.

“I was always going to Ireland anyway, it was just because I went to school in Northern Ireland, I had to do schoolboy football.

“When I went to Everton I said it to them, that I wanted to play for the Republic, I don’t know what age I was then, but I knew.”

The two O’Neills, Michael and Martin, plan to sit down for talks on the issue, Martin saying in Derry on Monday night that he’s happy to speak to his counterpart on the issue of recruitment.

Michael O’Neill’s core point is that young players already in the North’s underage system should not be approached.

“My request to the FAI and to any other association, is this: that if a young player has chosen to represent Northern Ireland at U17, U19 or U21 level, that he is allowed to develop in these crucial formative years without the responsibility of having to make a decision regarding his international allegiance that is binding for the rest of his career,” the North’s boss said on Monday.

Duffy disagrees.

“I am Irish, my whole family is Irish. Just because I grew up in the North doesn’t mean I am Northern Irish. If they close that door there will not be the opportunities to declare for Ireland and that’s not fair. I think the door should be open and it’s down to the player, if he wants to declare or not.

“If the player has a choice of both countries he will decide where he wants to play. He might not get picked, he might not be good enough but at the end of the day it’s the player’s call.

If he is English or Scottish, Protestant or Catholic, it doesn’t matter. If your dad’s Irish and you want to play for Ireland, then it’s down to the player.”