North winning in battle for young players – Nicholl

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North winning in battle for young players – Nicholl


Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill (L) and assistant coach Jimmy Nicholl (2ndL) pictured at a training session during Euro 2016. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill (L) and assistant coach Jimmy Nicholl (2ndL) pictured at a training session during Euro 2016. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jimmy Nicholl believes Northern Ireland will hold onto their best young players rather than see them switch to the Republic of Ireland.

Fifa’s eligibility rules allow young players from Northern Ireland to turn out for the Republic unless they have made a competitive appearance at senior international level for the North.

The Irish FA have needed to raise their game when it comes to persuading players from a nationalist background not to jump ship and Nicholl, who is Michael O’Neill’s number two with the Northern Ireland side, says he’s confident emerging talent will appreciate a welcoming environment and opportunity to taste success.

O’Neill steered Northern Ireland to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 and the play-offs for a 2018 World Cup spot.

“Undoubtedly,” said Nicholl, who played for both Manchester United and Rangers during a career that saw win 73 international caps, when asked if Northern Ireland were winning the battle to convince players to stay with Northern Ireland.

“We are convincing more players to stick with us. In the 1980s under Billy Bingham we didn’t have that issue but were still very successful.

“Players didn’t have the choice then but if they did they would have played with Northern Ireland because of the success the senior team enjoyed.

“After that, when big Jack (Charlton) came in, playing for the Republic became more appealing. Players want to play in major tournaments.

“We are now at the stage with Michael’s commitment to giving youth a chance that more players will look at Northern Ireland and see there is something exciting happening.

Money

“There’s a lot of money in football, particularly in the Premier League, but players want to achieve things too.

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“There must come a time when players want to show their grandchildren medals and look back on great international memories.”

Nicholl added: “At international level you’d love to say you have played at the Euros or a World Cup.

“I think Northern Ireland, with Michael in charge, are in a healthy position to hold onto the young players who have a choice.

“The U-21s have also been exceptional and very unlucky not to qualify for the Euro finals,” added Nicholl, who was appointed O’Neill’s number two in March 2015 and played in two World Cup finals.

Irish Independent

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