Scoring in the NI gene pool

So Michael O'Neill wants to make the Northern Ireland football team more inclusive and persuade some of those players who have opted for the Republic of Ireland to reconsider their decisions.

As the contributors to Shane Harrison's package on Good Morning Ulster pointed out on Thursday, there are a variety of potential obstacles in the way, including the national anthem and the Windsor Park venue for home internationals.

Wisely perhaps, the new manager is leaving such matters to the administrators.

He intends to concentrate instead on emphasising the individual benefits to players of opting for Northern Ireland, including the likelihood of enjoying a longer international career.

Michael O'Neill did refer on Good Morning Ulster to the "one-sided" FIFA rule which enables the Republic to poach players from Northern Ireland, but does not work vice versa. Perhaps the IFA should revisit this matter.

Back in November 2007, the FAI accepted a FIFA proposal that the rule should work both ways, but the IFA rejected the suggestion. The IFA's logic was that there would not be a queue of, say, Cork or Dublin born players eager to play for Northern Ireland, so the idea was not worth pursuing.

However, given that the Court for Arbitration in Sport dismissed the IFA's complaint against the FAI and shows no sign of shifting its ground, maybe making the rule work both ways is better than nothing.

It would at least increase the potential gene pool for future Northern Ireland squads, in as much as it would apply not just to Cork and Dublin youngsters, but also to players with Cork or Dublin grannies.

Many of the English players recruited by Johnny Giles and Jack Charlton for past Republic teams were attracted, like Mark Lawrenson or Tony Cascarino, by the irresistible opportunity of playing international football and were delighted to discover they were eligible under the 'Granny Rule'

It is not just the FAI which can exploit technicalities. Northern Ireland's veteran goalkeeper, Maik Taylor, has a German mother and English father, but - having been born on a British base in Germany - he was entitled to play for any of the UK nations.

So good luck to Michael O'Neill in persuading any "lost sheep" to return. But maybe the IFA should get a lawyer and a genealogist on the job of increasing the number of players he can pick.

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