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FOOTBALL: MAC THE KNIFE; Sammy slams foreign legion.

FOREIGN mercenaries will not march in the squads of Sammy McIlroy. The new Northern Ireland boss has halted recruitment of men like Birmingham's Dele Adebola.

"It's farcical chasing players with absolutely no connection to our country," insists the 45-year-old whose Belfast accent is still immediately detectable.

"I will take advantage of the `granny' rule but there must be some proven link to Northern Ireland. Holding a British passport is not enough."

This is a direct U-turn from Lawrie McMenemy's determined pursuit of West Indians qualified for the home countries. But McIlroy has always argued that passion for the green shirt is best inborn.

"I don't think it's over the top to say we had players virtually prepared to die out there for Northern Ireland in my day," he claims. "We need that commitment back."

McIlroy has heard stories of the current crop showing rather less devotion to country.

He is particularly offended by the infamous tale of a player telling Bryan Hamilton his advice would be welcome only when the boss earned as much as he did.

"Anybody with that attitude won't be in my team more than once," stresses Sammy Mac. "I won't tolerate players on vast wages turning up for a couple of days' break from their clubs."

Not one of McMenemy's `Dream Team' will continue with McIlroy. Pat Jennings, Joe Jordan and Chris Nicholl are out. "This is no disrespect to any of them," emphasises McIlroy. "I just feel it's better to have my own people. In fact, I won't use any goalkeeping coach."

But a couple of Nicholl's Under-21 discoveries - David Healy at Manchester United and Norwich's Adrian Coote are in line for instant promotion.

"I've watched Healy play for United reserves," confirms McIlroy, "and he looks a terrific talent. And I tried to get Coote on loan to Macclesfield.

"Both are inexperienced but when we've had only two wins in 20 matches what is there to lose?"

Sammy names his back-up staff this week and a Northern Ireland- based liaison man will be included.

"I want somebody to do the job Billy Neill performed for Bryan Hamilton," he explains.

"I'm challenging Irish League players to win caps. They don't have to get to England first. It's a huge jump from part-time to international but it can be done with the right dedication."

McIlroy's own leap from Macclesfield to the world stage is enormous. He freely admits it.

"I suppose I've learned by television," he says. "I'm a great watcher of games - sometimes four a week. The main lesson I've learned is that mistakes are heavily punished at the highest level."

When McMenemy took charge part of his brief was cracking down on indiscipline.

There followed long, unexplained absences of Gerry Taggart, Jim Magilton and Danny Sonner. No such talk surrounds McIlroy's appointment. "There are no restrictions on who I select," he says. "As far as I'm concerned we start from scratch.

"The same goes for captain. Steve Lomas has been doing the job and may well carry on. But I need to work with the players - get a feel of the squad - before deciding."

Today, McIlroy goes to work for Northern Ireland via his telephone.

There will be calls to all the regulars in McMenemy's squad and some will be hard to make.

"If anybody is being left out, I want him to hear it from me. I know how hurtful it can be picking up a paper and finding your name missing."

It's an early sign of a thoughtful boss who has asked the Irish FA for only two years to prove himself.

"More than enough," reckons Sammy. "There will be another contract if I do well."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Clark, Bill
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 9, 2000
Words:613
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