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The Once Again Topical Ireland/Northern Ireland Combined XI

The Once Again Topical Ireland/Northern Ireland Combined XI
By Conor Neville
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As part of Sinn Féin's Towards a United Ireland document which was published in Stormont today, the party is once more floating the idea of a United Ireland football team.

They posted a video on Facebook today with the tagline 'Irish Unity is better for Irish Sport.' It's a 40 second clip consisting of various images of united Ireland sporting outfits in rugby, hockey, cricket (one of Martin McGuinness's favourite sports) and the Olympics. It ends on a still photo of George Best accompanied by a 2005 quote in which he appeared to support the idea of a United Ireland team. This is regarded as significant for George, while never massively political, was as Ulster Protestant as it gets.

Here's the video.

The idea of a united Ireland football team has been discussed seriously in the North before. During Northern Ireland's historic goal drought in the early noughties - they went 14 games without a goal in 2002 and 2003, then a world record, until San Marino blew it out of the water -  the proposition was discussed properly on NI panel shows.

"I would wait 500 minutes and I would wait 500 more, just to be the man who waits a thousand minutes to see our wee country score"

UTV ran an item examining the possibility at the end of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign when both team were at a low ebb. The Republic of Ireland lost 1-0 in Austria and Giovanni Trapattoni resigned while Northern Ireland lost to bloody Luxembourg.


And now Sinn Féin are agitating for it again - unusually at a time when both sides appear to be in good health. It is thus as good a time as any to pick a United Ireland XI. But also to go further. Why stop at just the team?

Southern nationalists will have to realise that Northern Ireland will not simply be absorbed into the Republic of Ireland. As Gerry told Gaybo back in 1994 - "this is about creating a new Ireland!" And thus it must involve compromises if it is to work. Ireland's Call style compromises.

National anthem

Amhrán na bhFiann won't be satisfactory at all. Nor will God Save the Queen. What of the divisive ditty that Phil Coulter wrote in the offices of Slattery PR in 1995? Four proud provinces sounds all wrong in the football context. The Rose of Tralee has been trialled and found wanting. Northen Irish competitors use 'Danny Boy' when competing in the Commonwealth Games. The song was also played at the Easter Rising ceremony outside the GPO. Perfect.


Point of contention: There may a follow a dispute about whether the tune shall be referred to as the Derry Air or the Londonderry Air. Calling it the Derry Air could make it too easy for the French to lampoon.


Football administration 

The IFA and the FAI would get back together.


They haven't been united since the Belfast-based IFA authorities reneged on a promise to replay the 1921 Glentoran-Shelbourne Irish Cup match in Dublin and Shels told them to hump off. Within a short time, the FAI would be formed in the southern capital.

As the two organisations reunite, there is only one major outstanding question, one massive elephant in the conference room.

Just who is to be the capo di tutt'i capi of Irish football?


We're sure that the newly-installed IFA President David Martin is an adept political manouverer. But we can't be certain that he's fully aware of what he's going up against in that department. Hard luck David. You're just too green for our guy.

Point of clarification: We mean 'green' as in inexperienced. Not necessarily 'green' in the northern political context.



You might say that both Martin O'Neill and Michael O'Neill are proof of the imporving relations between the two footballing jurisdictions.

A former Northern Ireland player who led the Republic of Ireland to the Euros, and a former Shamrock Rovers manager who led Northern Ireland to the Euros.

That's all very well. But there can only be one boss. The best compromise here is that neither of them can take charge.


We will turn once more to former Northern Ireland manager Brian Hamilton for help. Or as Eamon Dunphy called him "failed Northern Ireland football manager Brian Hamilton."

Hamilton not only managed Northern Ireland in the second half of the 90s, he also headed up an FAI head-hunting committee which went looking for a new manager in late 2002-early 2003.

And Dunphy already has it in for him. So, we don't need to bother with that pointless honeymoon period.


For the compromise rules series, they usually sit Ger Canning beside an incredibly excitable Aussie Rules commentator who proceeds to show Ger up as excessively sedate.

Call us old-fashioned but we fear that seating two alpha males like George Hamilton and Jackie Fullerton (both northern Irishmen though it's easy to forget George is that) beside each other in the commentary booth would be a recipe for disaster.

As a compromise, we point to Jackie Fullerton's past as the lead anchor on BBC's Gaelic football coverage.

Both he and Darragh Maloney could do a Rachel Wyse-Brian Carney style double team on the football coverage. Though we accept the possibility that he could rub Eamo up the wrong way.



#COYBIG and #GAWA both have a cherished place in the hearts of Irish football supporting millennials. An amalgamation of the two could work but #COYGAWA sounds a bit like the surname of a Japanese businessman. Both hashtags are acceptable for now.


Match-day venue issues were the root cause of the split here so we have to tread carefully. The Irish rugby team haven't played in Ravenhill much in the past 50 years.

Once, against Italy, in a pre-2007 World Cup warm-up and there was some bellyaching from the some of the home crowd that God Save the Queen wasn't played alongside Ireland's Call.


For the football, we anticipate some sort of compromise whereby the shiny new Windsor Park gets a couple of qualifying games.


Darren Randolph

Darren Randolph is on a high following a series of faultess displays for Ireland and a phenomenal performance for West Ham in Old Trafford.

Seamus Coleman

There's little argument here.

Big Gareth McAuley

The two centre-halves come as a combo. While there were very positive signs in Vienna that the Republic of Ireland defensive pair are beginning to gel nicely, the two Northern lads play together at club level. They have an understanding that no international pair can hope to match.

Big Jonny Evans

See under Big Gareth McAuley.

Robbie Brady

Owing to an impoverished range of options at left back, we are relegating Robbie Brady back to his original berth. Before managers started getting ideas that he was wasted back there.

Jeff Hendrick

The first member of our five man united Ireland midfield is St. Kevin's Boys' finest, Jeff Hendrick. Probably, Ireland's best player during Euro 2016.

Harry Arter

He's only just played his first competitive game for Ireland, continuing Martin O'Neill's fortuitous tradition of happening upon his best team by accident.

Wee Steven Davis

Northern Ireland's celebrated midfield dynamo will take a spot in midfield, making him the first ex-Rangers player to play internationally for 'Ireland'. But not the last.

Wes Hoolahan

If it became apparent that, as a result of a united Ireland team being established, Wes Hoolahan might lose his place in the national team, then that would be Eamon Dunphy's cue to lobby against the proposal in his television appearances and in his newspaper columns. Wes must start as a price of Dunphy's support.

James McClean

Rich vein of form. We've had to weigh up McClean's recent performances against his potential for alienating our new footballing brothers-in-arms. McClean may be forced to delete his twitter account (again) as a price for the united Ireland team.

Big Jon Walters 

A hero for the Irish team. Proof also that political differences can be gotten around. This vocal supporter of the UK Conservative party even posed for a photo with Ireland's very socialist minded President after the 2-0 win over Bosnia.


Read more: Ranking Every Taoiseach In Order Of Their Ability To Piggyback On Irish Sporting Success

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