Ex-Northern Ireland star Keith Gillespie has blasted James McClean’s decision to play for the Republic.
Sunderland’s Derry-born flyer opted for the Republic, despite being born in the province and representing the North at Under-21 level. McClean, who will be on the bench for the Republic’s Euro 2012 opener against Croatia on Sunday after a stunning debut season with the Black Cats, had claimed that, as a Catholic, he did not feel comfortable playing for Northern Ireland.
It’s disappointing that players feel that there’s sectarianism in the game in Northern Ireland
But angry Gillespie has hit back, telling McClean he was out of order. “I think McClean was clutching at straws with those remarks and trying to come up with some sort of excuse,” said Gillespie, capped 86 times by the North.
“I’m of the firm belief that if you’re born in Northern Ireland, you should not have the option of playing for the Republic. “James McClean is a prime example. He had no intention of ever playing for the Northern Ireland senior team.
“He made some excuses in relation to being a Catholic, but you look at some of our greatest and most capped players who are Catholic people like Pat Jennings, Mal Donaghy, Martin O’Neill and Gerry Armstrong.”
Celtic boss Neil Lennon quit international football in 2002 after receiving death threats because of his religion, while McClean was forced to close down his Twitter account after receiving death threats following his decision this year.
And Gillespie added: “It’s disappointing that players feel that there’s sectarianism in the game in Northern Ireland.”