Republic boss Martin O'Neill hits back at 'Catholic' remarks by NI manager
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill says he is disappointed after Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill claimed the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was targeting Catholic players to switch allegiance.
Michael O'Neill made his comments after a number of players transferred their allegiance to the Republic of Ireland having represented Northern Ireland at youth level.
"To actually talk about religion and bring religion into it - it's very disappointing," said Martin O'Neill.
"What I have a problem with was the unexpected nature of the comments."
James McClean, Shane Duffy, Darron Gibson, Eunan O'Kane and Marc Wilson all played youth football for Northern Ireland before opting to represent the Republic.
"The FAI only ever approach one type of player: Catholic," said Michael O'Neill, himself a Catholic and former NI international, in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail this week.
"I don't have a problem with James McClean. He was 22 years of age, he knew what he wanted. I have a problem when it's a 16-, 17- or 18-year-old having to make a decision on his international future.
"What is the point of asking a player to change his allegiance, to make a decision about his whole international future, and then not pick him?" continued the Northern Ireland boss.
"I can list you 10 players who've made that decision and have never represented the Republic.
"I hope that Martin and I can get some sort of gentleman's agreement whereby if a young boy has represented Northern Ireland at aged 17 to 21, the FAI don't ask him to change."
Martin O'Neill, who captained Northern Ireland, has discussed the remarks with his Northern Ireland counterpart.
"I met him at a game quite recently, at Fulham, and we had a very convivial conversation. He never mentioned these points. I wish he had," he added.
"I have had a conversation with him since. He has admitted that I have not taken a senior player. In fact, it's quite the opposite as he has taken Alex Bruce."
"I have no problems having a conversation about underage level, if that's the case.
"The most important thing here is that I have never chosen a player on anything other than merit and and this is really, really important - it is down to the player."