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Football: FAI and IFA settle differences.

THE FAI and the IFA believe they have strengthened a gentleman's agreement to kerb the free movement of players between the associations.

They have also agreed that from next season a new cross-border cup competition will be staged between the European entrants of the Irish league and the National League.

The IFA last week admitted it was concerned by the loss of several Northern Ireland born youngsters who were opting to play for the Republic.

After a meeting of soccer's Irish governing bodies in Belfast yesterday, IFA President Jim Boyce said he was "extremely happy," with the outcome of all items on the agenda.

Last week, Derry-born Leeds United player Brian Lagan, revealed he'd been asked by an IFA official if his religion had any influence over his decision to join Brian Kerr's under 17 squad and the Republic.

Northern Ireland under 21 manager Roy Millar expressed his concern over the loss of players such as Lagan, Mark Hicks and Gerard Crossley, a Belfast born member of his U18 UEFA championship winning side.

"The issue of Northern Ireland's eligible players opting to play for the Republic was discussed at length with the FAI," said Boyce.

"It was also stressed that if a player made an approach himself, there was little the FAI could do unless FIFA was to change legislation. That, we accept. But at least we have agreed to notify one another should this happen.''

FAI chief executive Bernard O'Byrne claimed there was no bitterness on either side when the matter was discussed.

"There was a very positive atmosphere about this meeting and we look forward to sitting down with the IFA again within the next six months," said O'Byrne.

In a statement released last night, the FAI claimed the Association is the "first to recognise the extensive development programme of the IFA and congratulate them on their progress to date.

"The FAI acknowledge that this is a cross-community scheme and undertook to continue its policy of not approaching players born in Northern Ireland for the Republic of Ireland international teams.

Selection

"However, any player that opts to declare for the Republic of Ireland and notifies the FAI of this will be considered for selection."

The letter sent to Brian Lagan by the IFA's recently appointed community relations officer Shane Maguire, asked the player if he felt his religion influenced his move.

Lagan claims he was overlooked by the IFA on three occasions.

Boyce admitted that the wording of the letter, exposed on the same day the IFA received a FIFA Fair Play accolade, caused "embarrassment.''

"We admit that it was somewhat naive to have mentioned religion in the letter to Brian Lagan. But I want to stress that there was nothing malicious in the wording.

"Of course we want to know why the player made the move but I will deeply contest anyone who suggests that we (the IFA) are not concerned with religion or politics.

"I would be offended if any player was to accuse me or the association of having a sectarian policy.''

Next season the FAI National League champions and cup winners, will compete in a tournament with the Irish League champions and Irish Cup winners.

Arrangements for the Omagh Trust Fund international at Lansdowne Road on May 29 between Northern Ireland and the Republic were confirmed.

The FAI will allocate an initial 3,400 tickets for distribution through the IFA for the fixture.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:McGreevy, Alex
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 26, 1999
Words:569
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