Soccer friendly in aid of Omagh

 

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are to play a match in aid of the victims of the Omagh bomb outrage in an unprecedented gesture by the two rival Irish football associations.

Preliminary proposals are that the two sides should meet on a home and away basis, although it may be necessary to have just a single fixture because of difficulties in finding suitable dates.

If the match is played, it will be the first occasion that the teams have met at senior level in a non-competitive game. All eight previous meetings of the two Irelands have been in either the World Cup or the European Championship.

The game, which would mark a further thaw in the relationship between Dublin and Belfast in football matters, was first mooted during informal talks between officials of the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association last week.

The Republic of Ireland have free international dates in November and February, but with Northern Ireland committed to a European Championship meeting with Moldova in November the likelihood is that the game will be played on February 8th next.

IFA officials will be keen to host the game at Windsor Park in Belfast, but because of the greater financial possibilities offered by the larger Lansdowne Road venue, where officials could hope to gross almost £500,000 for the Omagh fund, Dublin is the more realistic venue.

Within hours of the proposal being made public, Ian Dowie, the acting captain of the Northern Ireland team, contacted the IFA to say that his players would donate their match fee of £300 and possible win bonus of £200 to the fund.

That gesture is likely to be matched by the Republic's players, whose match fees are considerably higher than those currently on offer to the Northern team.

"This is a fine gesture by players who are normally maligned for being mercenary," said Mr David Bowen, the IFA secretary.

Speaking at the Republic of Ireland team headquarters, where the players are preparing for Saturday's European Championship meeting with Croatia, coach Mick McCarty said: "It's a great idea and one in which I would be delighted to be involved. It's always a problem securing the release of players for friendly games, but I can't imagine anybody not wanting to help a cause such as this. Everybody in football should pull together on this one and I am certain they will."