Northern Ireland have resumed efforts to persuade Jimmy Dunne to play for them following Martin O’Neill’s departure as Republic of Ireland manager.
Dunne, who is on the verge of agreeing an extension to his loan deal at Hearts from Burnley until the end of the season, recently held talks in Edinburgh with Michael O’Neill about switching to Northern Ireland.
Dunne was born in Dundalk but is eligible to play for the North because of the grandparent rule. The player was named in a 36-man squad by Martin O’Neill shortly after he had been approached by Northern Ireland. He was dropped and then reinstated and sat on the bench for Monday’s 0-0 draw with Denmark, which proved to be Martin O’Neill’s last match in charge of Republic of Ireland. Dunne did not come on at all which means he remains free to play for Northern Ireland if he chooses to do so.
Hearts assistant manager Austin MacPhee is on the coaching staff at Northern Ireland and he plans to take advantage of the uncertain situation with the Republic. Mick McCarthy is the current favourite to replace Martin O’Neill and return as manager 16 years after leaving.
MacPhee has advised Dunne to recognise the fact that vacancies are set to open in the middle of the Northern Ireland defence. Rangers’ Gareth McAuley and Dunne’s Hearts team-mate Aaron Hughes are now both 39 years old. “I think it’s more what’s in Jimmy’s head that’s important,” said MacPhee. “If he just wants to play for the Republic of Ireland then it’s not going to matter. I don’t think he caught the eye of Martin O’Neill. What caught the eye of Martin O’Neill was the interest of Michael O’Neill.
“He can still play for Northern Ireland because Martin didn’t put him on the pitch,” he added. “All I can say is the best thing for Jimmy Dunne the footballer would be to play for a country that will give him an opportunity to play for that country. If you look at the profile of the centre-backs for the two countries, and everything else, there would not be a choice to make.
“If someone asked me as a young player if I wanted to play for England when I hoped to play for Scotland it would be very hard, so I understand the dilemma for Jimmy from a purely country point of view, without being someone who has grown up with the other issues involved.
“You need a space,” he added. “If you were a young Brazilian for the ten years Roberto Carlos played left-back and you were a left-back, you’re not playing. If you were a left-winger for Wales when Ryan Giggs was there for ten years, you’re not playing either.
“Sometimes you can think about these things a little more strategically. But obviously there is patriotism and emotion and everything else rolled into it.”
Neither Northern Ireland or the Republic play a competitive fixture again until March so MacPhee has time to bring further pressure to bear on Dunne, who looks set to remain at Tynecastle for the entire campaign.
“I told him the Northern Ireland door is still open,” he said. “I also reminded him that he has a ratio of international call-ups to the sacking of managers that’s now 1:1. It’s pretty impressive!”