|A dark day for Northern football limits Nigel Worthington's talent pool|
Make no mistake, today is a landmark day in Irish football.
It seems player eligibility on the island of Ireland has reached it's climax. The topic follows on from a post I did almost three years ago, and does not make pretty reading for the Irish Football Association.
Following a number of defections to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) of it's players, the Irish Football Association (IFA) took the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in an attempt to stop the talent drain to the Republic which threatens to spiral out of control.
The IFA case has quite clearly fell on deaf ears with those at CAS, and has now opened the door to Northern Ireland's footballing elite to switch allegiances to the Republic of Ireland if they so wish.
In a statement, the IFA said it was "disappointed by the decision". Rubbish. Underneath, they will be absolutely seething and will be left reeling by the decision, and rightly so. Why would an association who govern's, trains, and educates it's emerging talent wish to see that talent then handed over to a rival association whenever they are wanted?
The FAI 'victory' can no doubt be attributed to their continued referral throughout the case to the historic 'Good Friday Agreement' whereby anyone born on the island of Ireland can indeed be recognised as a citizen of Ireland.
However, this farcical situation where two Irish Associations go against one another is quite blatantly based on religious affiliation, and not citizenship; a right which the Gibson's, Duffy's and Wilson's of this world are guaranteed from day one by the way. Therefore the FAI's insistence on quoting the GFA in order to bolster it's already minimal local based talent looks to be both narrow-minded and greedy. Of course the FAI strategy would have to be expected when you take into consideration the number of non-Irish born Republic of Ireland internationals in the past. When an association is so used to having it's pool of talent UK-wide, Northern Ireland was always going to be vulnerable to the prying eye of the FAI.
But it is also extremely insensitive. Many within Northern football would view the FAI's strategy of claiming players not entitled to them as out-of-touch with the 'new' Northern Ireland that is being created following the signing of that historic agreement.
'Shared', 'inclusive', 'partnership' were all keywords that feature within creating peace and prosperity in Northern society.
Did those at the FAI miss that section of the agreement?
Their claims that they maintain good relations with their Northern counterparts may well be true, but is something more sinister lurking in the background? Their actions can be seen as opportunism, yet for many in Northern football it is seen as a blatant sectarian grab for the Roman Catholic population who might be easily 'sweet-talked' into a switch of associations.
A defection based on religious grounds then. Really...
Does this seriously respect a 'shared' future?
It places yet another religious barrier over a 'war-weary' Northern society that is trying it's best to find a way to embrace the relatively new concept of 'shared future' together. Unfortunately, it was the high profile Northern Ireland youth international Darron Gibson that set the negative trend, and so far Armagh's Marc Wilson and Derry's Shane Duffy have followed suit. No doubt there will be more to come following Don Givens appointment to Chief Scout in the United Kingdom.
I'll leave you with a depressing scenario that could well emerge from the whole elligibility debacle...
Envisage five to ten years down the line where 'Catholic Ireland' is led by the FAI, and a 'Protestant Ireland' is governed by the IFA. The so-called 'Orange' and 'Green' firmly set apart from each other. An Ireland of equals? A building of bridges?
Don't believe the local media hype for one minute.
Football Apartheid in Ireland is progressing from a political level to a religious one, and like it or not the FAI have been handed a huge advantage over their Northern counterparts from this decision.