When you look to Irish national teams for a source of pride, rugby comes to mind first. It is a great testament to this small nation that we compete with countries that have 10 times the population to work with.
So based on that, one would assume that any possible question regarding an amalgamation of the Republic and Northern Ireland soccer teams has to be answered with a yes. I however, disagree.
The Republic of Ireland national team has shown before that it has the quality in its arsenal to compete with the best in the world and to make the latter stages of major tournaments.
In the World Cup in 1990, 1994, and 2002, the Republic’s soccer team reached the quarter finals, and made it to the final 16 twice, respectively. During the same time period Northern Ireland failed to qualify on all occasions.
For the European Championship in 1988 and 2012 the Republic reached the group stages of the tournament. The upper quadrant of the island has never reached a European Championship.
Despite neither side succeeding in securing a trip to Brazil in 2014, the Republic still managed to maintain a somewhat respectable record in terms of wins and draws compared to Northern Ireland’s shambolic campaign in which the green of the North recorded a draw and a loss against both Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
When you move the argument away from the pitch the sensible notion still points towards the Republic remaining a separate entity.
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) have purpose built grounds in the Aviva Stadium which is the home of Irish soccer. Northern Ireland do not have that luxury. Instead, they have leased the rights from Linfield F.C. for the use of Windsor Park. In return for this lease, 15 per cent of all revenue of gate receipts and TV rights leaves the Irish Football Association‘s (IFA) pockets and lines Linfield’s.
The issue surrounding political and religious difference also needs to be considered. The Irish rugby team works as a combined entity because a) it has always been this way since its inception and b) the vast majority of rugby supporters would be of a higher social class and background. Not meaning to pigeonhole, but football supporters would have a greater tendency towards unruliness and hooliganism than their rugby counterparts.
The only foreseeable benefit gained for the Republic of Ireland by amalgamation is that the Republic of Ireland would not have to press players who are born in the six counties to declare for the Republic.
However, most Irish managers have a tendency to acquire players not only from Northern Ireland, but also Scotland, Wales, and England. Once they were born on the island or have a grandparent who was, they can declare for the Republic – therefore all of the Northern Ireland squad is fair game for the Republic of Irish team, they just need to be ahead of the curve in terms of recruiting them.
Another issue is that the League of Ireland, which is already on the fringes of the FAI’s agenda, would become even more so, as an amalgamation of both countries national teams would result in an inevitable combination of both football associations.
Northern Ireland’s only potential commodities are already available to the Republic and therefore the south will be offering up a much greater investment for what are limited dividends!