Irish Football Association President Jim Shaw has expressed disappointment after seventeen-year-old Celtic midfielder Paul George, who is from Killough in county Down, opted to play for the Irish Republic rather than Northern Ireland.
The IFA lost out last summer in a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which challenged FIFA's stance on the eligibility rule. This gave the FAI in the Republic the go ahead to cherry pick players born in Northern Ireland, despite FIFA's own statutes dictating that either a player himself, one of his parents or a grandparent must be born on the 'territory of the relevant association' in order to play for that country.
Now Jim Shaw has said that a new route must be found to prevent the Republic of Ireland from freely selecting Northern Ireland born players.
In an article in the Belfast Telegraph (4 March), former Ireland and Ulster rugby player Trevor Ringland, a member of One Small Step, said:
The FAI are in danger of making Northern Ireland a Protestant team - instead of a mixed team - by taking away these young players.That's incredibly short-sighted of the FAI and shows a total lack of understanding of the damage being done to relationships on this island. The FAI's stance is undermining the good work of so many others.
It will be argued by some folk that a footballer who decides to play for another country would never really have given his full commitment to Northern Ireland but nevertheless this is an iniquitous and inequitable situation.
The reason for his decision to choose the Republic is unclear but Northern Ireland under-seventeen manager Paul Kee, who had selected George for two friendlies, said, 'Some from naionalist backgrounds will feel an affiliation with the Republic and I believe it was a family decision for Paul.'