The O’Neill in question was, you’ll not be surprised to read, not myself but one of my footballing heroes, Martin.
Of course, when you read what he actually said , you see that the headline, which has had Irish nationalists squeeling with the delight, has a bit more hard reality lurking behind it. I respect Martin O’Neill as a person and his opinion much more than the two other main NI stars from the past who’ve argued for a “United” Ireland team; I never put any import whatsoever on the ramblings of an alcoholic wife-beater (Best) or an UKIP self-publicist (Dougan).
But yes, if O’Neill or Pat Jennings says something ,then I’ll listen.
A couple more pertinent thoughts from Martin:
Thirty five years on, O’Neill isn’t convinced that an All-Ireland team is necessarily imminent, despite the extraordinary political changes on the island in recent years. But it’s a development he would dearly love to see.
“The political climate has changed a great deal since then and you might think that in this particular climate it is a possibility,” he mused. “But I really don’t know. I don’t know even at this stage if everyone would want it to happen.
I also don’t know, but I wouldn’t certainly rule out letting the splittist FAI rejoin the IFA they left in a huff in the 1920s and indeed, as rugby has shown, an all-Ireland team can work, but only if everyone is prepared to compromise.
So, I’d certainly support an Ireland team playing the vast majority of its home games in Belfast (with Dublin getting the very odd, meaningless friendly on the condition that it’s accepted it will be an away match for Ireland and thus no emblem of the ROI being flown or the ROI’s anthem played). Such a team would generally play under the Union Jack and a “compromise” flag, let’s say the Cross of St Patrick, standing to attention to GSTQ and some second compromise anthem that "we can all share", let’s say “Danny Boy/Londonderry Air”. Obviously with her busy timetable, it will be difficult for our head of state to get over for every game to shake hands with the team, but why not Big Ian or Robbo then as a substitute?
It works for rugby, can’t see why it can’t also work for football and I’m sure it will if all Irish people of goodwill want it to.