Over the years there have been dozens of footballers who could have turned out in the green and white of Northern Ireland.
They had their own reasons for turning NI down, perhaps if Our Wee Country make it to Euro 2016 they’ll regret those choices. Or perhaps not.
Anyway, here’s are six of the best who could have, and still could play for Michael O’Neill’s Green and White Army.
1. Shay Given
Shay is from Lifford which is so close to the border that Ian Paisley once canvassed there by mistake. Shay has lots of relatives in the north and would have qualified. He has stated this himself. But fair play to him. Shay Given was always a Republic of Ireland player from the youth team right the way up.
2. Steve Bruce
It’s hard to believe looking at him now, but 25 years and 10 stone ago Steve Bruce was one of the best defenders in the UK. The Geordie powerhouse formed a rock solid partnership with Gary Pallister in the early 90s and even saved Man Utds initial Premiership title campaign in 1993 with a Fergie time header against Sheffield Wednesday. If he was playing today he would have walked straight into the England defence but back in the 90s he had people like Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate and er, Carlton Palmer blocking his way.
Steve had a mother who was born in Bangor and was asked several times to play for Northern Ireland. However, he was more interested in a phone call from Terry Venables. His son Alex, now also qualifies and is occasionally drafted into the squad.
3. Wayne Rooney
The emergence of Wayne Rooney as a teenage superstar did not go unnoticed by the then Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy. Back in 2003, before Wayne made his debut against Australia, Sammy made contact with him about playing for Northern Ireland. I wonder if Wayne regrets his decision to turn his back on us? Playing for NI would be way more craic..
4. Paolo Di Canio
You are going to have to trust me on this one. But back in the Sammy McIlroy days we were desperate for a goal. We had gone over 1000 minutes without one. As such we were looking for more extreme options. And they don’t come more extreme than Paolo Di Canio.
He was uncapped for his native Italy and because he lived in England for a long time he qualified to play for any of the four home nations. There were faint murmurs that he might show up at Windsor one day.
Looking back I am kind of glad. Nothing seems to end well if it is connected to Paolo Di Canio.
5. Frank Lampard Jr Jr
Christine Bleakley has had a crazy last 10 years. From cameo roles in Give My Head Peace and telling us about how great Lisburn is to co-hosting ‘Strictly Come Dancing on Ice’, The One Show and This Morning on the days when Holly Willoughby can’t be bothered.
Christine clearly has the Northern Ireland football team in mind also by targeting top former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard Jr as her partner.
I hope that with whatever children come of this relationship, that Gary Lightbody and Michael O’Neill are waiting outside the delivery room ready to serenade them with a tiny Northern Ireland shirt. Who knows? One day Frank Lampard Jr Jr might be roared on at Windsor Park.
6. Robert Cullen
Being so small, Northern Ireland have to search far and wide for players with tenuous links to the province. And they don’t come much more tenuous than Robert Cullen. The 30 year old who sounds like he should be in Twilight has 11 Japan Under 20 caps and now plays in Seoul, South Korea. Crucially his dad is from Northern Ireland. So if the IFA can afford the plane ticket I think they should give this guy a call.
Other Players With Links…
Left sided midfielder, currently at Fulham. His dad is from Magherafelt.
A distant relative of Steve McManaman could still play for Northern Ireland if he’s interested.
This guy has 17 England U21 caps but can still play for Northern Ireland through his Ulster born father.