"In Ireland there is no league." Martin O'Neill's predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni enraged fans of domestic football with that infamous comment in 2013. O'Neill himself played in the Irish League in Northern Ireland and attends Airtricity League games now.
O'Neill recently appeared on the Greatest League in the World podcast, and when asked about Trapattoni's comments reflected on his own experiences in Irish football.
I wasn't aware about what Trappatoni had said at the time. But if you can, I suppose he spent an awful lot of time in Seria A. He would know big, big players. If I could draw comparisons, if you accept me or want me to do so, with the Irish league for instance. I don't know whether it has changed a great deal in my time or since I left it but the comparisons League of Ireland and Irish League might have some sort of similarity.
When I mentioned to you that I got a chance to play for Northern Ireland because some players hadn't turned up, that is actually true. If everybody turned up I wouldn't have got that opportunity. It might not have changed that much in all of that time, I don't see Michael O'Neill reaching out to the Irish league and getting an awful lot of players.
O'Neill went on to suggest he understands Trapattoni's sentiment.
I do attend the games I'm aware some people might think it is a bit of tokenism and stuff but sometimes you do go to a game and hope you might see something, that some young player coming through has a chance of making it. There is the world of difference, I think this is what Trapattoni was saying, between players. Some people have accused me, for instance, of picking the player after they have left the league of Ireland, that might be true. You always feel the championship players, a league below the premier league which is pretty strong, would be better than the Airtricity league at the minute. From that viewpoint, I can understand it.
O'Neill referenced the case of Richie Towell, who enjoyed a phenomenal season with Dundalk before moving to Brighton where he failed to make the breakthrough. When quizzed on Sean Maguire, O'Neill said he had attended Cork City games and Maguire had not played well. "Wee Seani is now showing that he can score goals, he's got a bit of something. Which I have said to him, he's got something. He is still a long way away. To change the fortunes at international level, it is putting a lot of undue pressure on young players."
The Irish boss was speaking on a League of Ireland podcast and when challenged, highlighted the large amount of Irish championship players who fail to make the step up.
The full programme is well worth your time and can be found here.