Time for a United Ireland team, say O'Neill and Jennings
Martin O'Neill and Pat Jennings voiced their support yesterday for an All-Ireland international team.
O'Neill said any move to re-unify the island's two football sides would be 'phenomenal', while former Northern Ireland team-mate Jennings insisted he was in 'no doubt' an All-Ireland team would fare better than the separate entities.
The pair were speaking in Dublin at a 35th anniversary function to commemorate the 1973 match between a Shamrock Rovers All-Ireland XI and then world champions Brazil at Lansdowne Road in front of 37,000.
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United front: John Giles, Don Givens, Martin O'Neill and Pat Jennings celebrate the 35th anniversary of their All-Ireland XI clash with Brazil in 1973
That remains the only time that players from the Republic and North have taken to the field in unison since the FAI and IFA split in 1921.
The assembled team, which lost 4-3, featured O'Neill and Jennings, together with the likes of John Giles and Don Givens from the south.
Although George Best did not feature, O'Neill stresed he would have also backed a united team.
"George Best would always have cried out for a united Irish team and it would be a phenomenal step," he said. "I certainly think that the political climate has changed greatly since then 1973 and I suppose, if there are possibilities, then you might think in this particular time that there is a possibility of an All-Ireland team]," he said at a lunch organised by the Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland and Lucozade Sport.
"I don't know even at this particular stage if everyone would want it to happen. But, from a playing point of view, you can imagine what it would be like.
"For instance," O'Neill added, "Northern Ireland went to the World Cup in 1982 and we eventually played in the quarter-final. You can imagine what our side would have been like if it had included Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady. It would have been phenomenal.
"We had a great old spirit about ourselves at that time, but you can imagine adding one or two of those players and I'm sure there would have been a stage in later years when the Republic would have thought they could have done with one or two players from the North."
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The Shamrock Rovers Ireland XI side that faced Brazil in 1973
As Jennings reminisced about Brazil's visit to Dublin, when he saved a penalty, he said the obstacles that have been put up against an All-Ireland team had never come from players on either side of the border.
"It's the bureaucracy involved in changing things that has always been the problem, and it's a measure of the opposition there was to the fixture from the IFA that the team had to play under the guise of a Shamrock Rovers XI," said the 119-times capped goalkeeper. "We all knew what the occasion was and what the possibilities were, but it's never been a players' problem.
"I wrote about it in my book in 1982 that there is no doubt a united Ireland team would have a better chance of qualifying and going further in competitions, because of the players and the numbers that you have to pick from.
"You would have a better squad. If you have one or two injuries in key positions, none of us, north or south, could cope with that at the moment.
"But you have to say, when looking back, that the success both sides have had is unbelievable for the size of our country and what we are playing against. We are only a small country and we have done unbelievably well, both associations."
It is highly unlikely, however, the status quo on the island will change during Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure as Ireland manager and the Italian's backroom team are currently trawling through the talent that is available ahead of his unveiling on May 1.
O'Neill, who worked with Aiden McGeady during his time as Celtic manager, has admitted he will look on with interest as to how Ireland fare over the coming World Cup campaign.
"Obviously he Trapattoni has got the track record. He's got this group of players now at this minute and he can't go into a transfer market and bring four or five players in that he wants to," said O'Neill. "He has to work with this but he seems to be excited about it and that's not only good, it's very important."