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Oxford Midfielder Suffered 'Backlash' After Switching Allegiance

Oxford Midfielder Suffered 'Backlash' After Switching Allegiance
By PJ Browne
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Mark Sykes says he was on the end of a "backlash" when news broke last August that he wanted to switch his international allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.

Sykes had played up to U21 level for Northern Ireland, including under current senior manager Ian Baraclough. The 23-year-old, who joined Oxford from Glenavon just over two years ago, said it was "difficult" telling Baraclough that he wanted to play for the Republic.

"I said: ‘I’m going to change allegiances. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do," Sykes told The Irish News.

"I’d obviously known Ian for a little while with the U21s. I think it was the most successful U21 team ever.

"I got an email that I was in the squad [for Northern Ireland's Nations League games against Romania and Norway].

"When I spoke to Ian on the phone he said: ‘Do you think the Republic of Ireland can guarantee you 70 or 80 caps?’

"And I was thinking: ‘Is that what you can guarantee me?’


"I hadn’t been guaranteed anything."

Sykes said that as his foot was already in the door, he knew it would have been easier to make a senior international breakthrough with Northern Ireland. The Belfast native had never been asked to represent the Republic at underage level.


"To be fair to Stephen Kenny, he said: ‘Listen, I’m not going to make you any false promises that you’re going to be in the squad for this or that match,'" said Sykes.

He added that if he was to play at senior level for the Republic of Ireland, "it would be my proudest moment in football".

Regarding the abuse he received, Sykes said:


“I told Ian it was nothing to do with religion - as my partner is Protestant. At the end of the day, I see myself as an Irish person and the right thing for me to do was to represent Republic of Ireland. It’s that simple.

“Whenever someone switched back from Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland they didn’t get half the backlash that I did. People will pick and choose when they say things but that’s just the way life is. It doesn’t bother me.”

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