Ex-northern ireland star Keith Gillespie has dismissed hopes of an all-Ireland team being established in the future, suggesting it will “never happen”.
Enda Kenny recently put forward the idea for a team of players from both sides of the border to be established to play charity matches against England, however Gillespie believes this idea is not viable.
The former Man United player, who won 86 caps for his country over the course of a 20-year playing career, believes the situation is too complex politically for a resolution that would see the two sides come together.
“For me, it’ll never happen for political reasons — there’s just too many complications with it,” he told TheScore.ie.
“I was brought up as a Northern Ireland fan. So for me, that’s my country. For people brought up as Republic of Ireland fans, that’s their country.
“I’ve always been a Northern Ireland fan from a young age and used to go and watch them. That’s my identity and I wouldn’t want it changed. But I’m not into the politics of it whatsoever.”
He expresses similar views in his new autobiography, How Not to be a Football Millionaire, in which he claims the longstanding animosity between the team’s sets of fans was never emulated by players from the respective countries.
In the book, he also laments the infamous circumstances that led to Neil Lennon having to quit the Northern Irish team.
“Neil was popular in the group, although he had taken stick from some supporters at Windsor since his move to Celtic. With so many northern Ireland fans having Rangers loyalties, he was never going to be their favourite person but it descended into something far more sinister than that.
“We had our usual nap in the hotel before the game. I popped down to reception after and knew from the looks on people’s faces that something was up. Neil was gone. Death threats had been phoned through via the BBC and, after consulting with police, he would be taking no part in the game. He was so shaken up by the incident that he had quit Northern Ireland completely. Sammy called a meeting to explain the situation and, while we chose to go ahead with the game, I really don’t think anyone was in the mood. It finished 0-0. Fitting, because there were no winners that day.”
Gillespie, whose mother grew up on the same street as Martin O’Neill, backed his fellow countryman to succeed in his new role as Ireland manager.
“It’s a great appointment — a real coup to get someone like Martin O’Neill who has had a lot of success from Wycombe all the way up to Leicester and Celtic. He was a fantastic player who won European trophies, played in the World Cup finals and captained his country.
“He’s a great man to have and I can only see good things happening for the Republic.”
Our full interview with Keith Gillespie will be published on the site at 10am tomorrow.
How Not to be a Football Millionaire by Keith Gillespie is now available to buy. More details here.