Martin O’Neill on why he’s fast-tracked Hearts’ Jimmy Dunne into squad

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Martin O’Neill has admitted that he was partly motivated to call up Hearts star Jimmy Dunne in order to ward off potential interest from Northern Ireland.

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Hearts defender Jimmy Dunne. Picture: SNS

Hearts defender Jimmy Dunne. Picture: SNS

The Republic of Ireland national team boss included the young centre-back in his 36-man provisional squad for the upcoming double-header against Northern Ireland and Denmark.

The Burnley loanee has been in terrific form for Craig Levein’s side since arriving on loan in the summer, holding together the Hearts defence in the absence of the injured John Souttar and Christophe Berra.

Players born in Northern Ireland are allowed to switch their allegiances to the Republic if they so choose, though there’s not as much freedom the other way. Dunne is eligible for due to his grandparents.

Asked if the prospect of Michael O’Neill stealing Dunne away, O’Neill answered: “It would be ridiculous of me to say that wouldn’t be a part of that.

“I spoke to young Dunne, he was delighted with the call and I think he genuinely wants to play for us and that’s important.

“I’ve known from the past that even players involved in a 36/37 man squad always get a lift from that. And that was certainly the case when I spoke to young Dunne.”

He added: “As he said himself, he had a tough old week of it, the Celtic match and then the derby game with Hibs.

“But we’re just having a look at him and he was very pleased with that.”