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Martin O'Neill: A Proper Game With Northern Ireland Would Be Really Strange

Martin O'Neill: A Proper Game With Northern Ireland Would Be Really Strange
By Conor O'Leary
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It's a sign of how far things have come on this island that the Northern Ireland football team can finally travel down south to have a glorified training match with the Republic of Ireland.

On the pitch, there haven't been many official games between the two countries, with only the Nations Cup fixture being played since the 1999 friendly. With players like Darron Gibson and James McClean switching allegiances and playing their international football south of the border, there were some tensions between the two football associations too. Now that there is a closed doors training session, there could be a sense that it could be weird.

Not for Martin O'Neill however, who thinks that a "proper game" with Northern Ireland would be strange. Although O'Neill has different reasons to the rest of us. Speaking to the Irish Independent, The former Northern Ireland captain at the 1982 World Cup says his journey to become Republic of Ireland boss would make things strange coming up against his countrymen in an official game:

If it was a proper game, yes, I would maybe find that really strange. Really strange.

The one difference between today's friendly and a proper game is that players like James McClean or manager Martin O'Neill can't be subjected to crowd abuse because of their upbringing. That isn't to say that there wouldn't be a bit of a bite to today's session.

Both managers have called for their teams to play sensibly, but Martin O'Neill says that things can always be called off if the game gets too feisty.

The great thing about it is that we can haul it up any time. We can call a halt to proceedings. We're down to start at 1.00 pm and we could be finished by ten past very easily.

It's clear that there was an air of a joke from Martin O'Neill's comments, and the good relationship he enjoys with his Northern Ireland counterpart Michael O'Neill should ensure that any disagreements on the pitch are swiftly resolved.


Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill echoes Martin O'Neill sentiments and is calling for 'common sense' from both sets of players. He acknowledges that the players should take it as competitive game given the nature of professional sport, and that playing against their closest rivals could add to the feistiness despite the lack of a crowd.


These lads have it (competitive edge) naturally in their make-up and when you have that scenario of lads who play against each other often in a club football, you're always going to find that. But I think it'll be played with an element of common sense as well.

In either case, both teams should benefit from the training game that's set to feature more than the 17 players that a normal FIFA friendly would allow, and possible played over three 30 minute sections rather than two halves. Both teams need game-time to work on fitness and cohesion ahead of crucial qualifiers against Scotland and Romania.

Hopefully it's a sign of further training sessions to come in the future.



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Photo Credit Pat Murphy /Sportsfile


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