Sinn Fein deputy leader Pearse Doherty has called for a debate about the possibility of establishing an all-island soccer team, following the resignation of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane as the Ireland management team.
Mr Doherty contrasted the dismal fortunes of the national soccer team with a historic win by the all-island Irish rugby team against New Zealand earlier this month.
“Irish teams are stronger and they’re better when they’re all-Ireland teams. And we already have all-Ireland teams in sports like hockey, rugby and boxing,” he said.
A series of dismal performances by the ‘Republic of Ireland’ squad in the UEFA Nations League finally spelled the end of a high-cost, low-yield management team. Former manager Mick McCarthy has been named as their replacement, returning to the post after 16 years.
The ‘Northern Ireland’ squad, which has a smaller pool of players to draw from, has long had similar results. Other than a victory over Israel in a friendly in September, it has struggled on the international stage this year. It is traditionally the team supported by loyalists.
The two sides played a scoreless draw in a friendly in Dublin on November 15. Despite some contentious incidents, there was no trouble at a fixture which has been associated with serious disturbances in the past.
Pearse Doherty pointed to a suggestion by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny a number of years ago, “when he said an all-Ireland soccer team should take on England every two years and the money raised should go to charity for children”.
He added: “I don’t think it makes sense that our small island would have two separate teams, splitting the pool of talent, splitting the resources that are available.”
A number of surveys had shown support north and south of the border for such a team, he said.
“Is it not time that we started this conversation following what we’ve done in rugby, hockey, boxing and other sports?” Mr Doherty asked.
“Sport demonstrates that we can achieve great success when we work on an all-Ireland basis.”