Taoiseach Enda Kenny has proposed the creation of an all-Ireland soccer team to play charity games against England, alternately in Croke Park and Wembley.
At a sports reconciliation conference in Armagh City this morning, Mr Kenny opened up the possibility of the likes of the Republic's Seamus Coleman and the North's Jonny Evans lining out together against English stars such as Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Leighton Baines.
Mr Kenny caused surprise when he floated the idea, suggesting the money raised from the games would be used to help fund new children's hospitals in Dublin and Belfast. He made his proposal in front of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who were attending the conference organised by the GAA, the Irish Football Association and the Ulster Rugby Football Union.
The idea appeared to come to Mr Kenny as he was speaking.
“It’s just a thought,” he said. “It might be something that could become a reality.” The Taoiseach made clear that he did not believe the creation of a permanent all-Ireland soccer team was currently possible, but that charity games were feasible.
A Government source also explained that the idea may need some development, particularly as England involvement may require some of the funds from the proposed games going to English charities. Mr Kenny suggested that the games should take place twice a year although again the source said this idea would need further fleshing out. Annual games could be more likely, it was suggested.
“We have two children’s hospitals in Belfast and Dublin. Wouldn’t it be wonderful when you can’t have all-Ireland soccer teams playing in international competitions that perhaps on a biannual basis there would be a charity match played in Ireland and in England,”
Mr Kenny later elaborated to reporters. "A charity match for a really good purpose I think would be attractive to everybody," he added. Proceeds could go to the two children's hospitals on the island of Ireland, he said. Mr Kenny suggested that British prime minister David Cameron could support his idea while stressing that it would be a matter for the soccer sporting bodies in the Republic, Northern Ireland and England, and also for the GAA in relation to having Croke Park as a venue.
In 1973 an all-Ireland soccer team, billed as Shamrock Rovers XI, came together to play Brazil at Lansdowne Road featuring the likes of Pat Jennings, the incoming Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, Derek Dougan who organised the game, Johnny Giles and Don Givens. They lost 4-3.
The IFA president Jim Shaw, like everyone else at the event, was caught on the hop by the suggestion. "It came out of the blue. It's probably one for tomorrow and when we get there we can debate it and discuss it," he said.