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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 18:02 GMT
Call for all-Ireland soccer team
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Soccer's governing bodies in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic should be merged, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern has said.

Mr Ahern said an all-island league would generate more income for clubs and provide more talented players for a re-constituted national team.

He told the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland that times had changed since the governing body split in the 1920s.

"Together they can achieve so much more than by remaining apart," he said.

Rugby is the most high-profile sport to be organised on a north-south basis, and up to 30 sporting bodies operate in this way.

David Healy
Would David Healy thrive in an all-Ireland team?
"I believe the time is now right for both football organisations to sit down together for serious discussions on the basis that together they can achieve so much more than remaining apart," he said.

"When they balance the pros and cons of having one all-island football organisation, the ledger will, I believe, come down heavily on a harmonious coming together of two noble Irish football traditions and organisations."

We've had good times and bad times, but we're quite happy with our lot
Gary McAllister
Northern Ireland Supporters Club
Mr Ahern said circumstances were totally different to the 1920s.

"In 1921, the south had emerged from the war of independence, while a majority in the north viewed with increasing fear developments in the new state.

"Eighty-six years later, we enjoy a dramatically changed Ireland."

Mr Ahern said the fact that both organisations were working with Uefa to jointly host the 2011 Under-21 European Championships "underlines what can be achieved together".

"Belfast is now just two hours by train and road from Dublin. The relationship, the respect, and the solidarity is growing stronger all the time," he said.

George Best
George Best said he was in favour of such an idea

But Gary McAllister from the Northern Ireland Supporters Club said merging was not an option.

"Northern Ireland have been quite successful in recent times and it is very interesting that voices from the Irish Republic are now calling for an all-Ireland team on this sort of level when it's the first time that Northern Ireland are above them in the Fifa world rankings," he said.

"We've had good times and bad times, but we're quite happy with our lot."

'Positive co-operation"

In a statement, the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland said they already had "a very high degree of positive co-operation" with the Irish Football Association in Belfast, which "was growing year by year".

"At Uefa level the two associations collaborate for the good of Irish football and we continually assess, with our colleagues in the IFA, every relevant issue that impacts on football on both sides of the border.

"The FAI intends continuing to strengthen the co-operation and development links that are already established with the IFA."

Teams from north and south have come together in recent years to play in the Setanta Cup.

The last time an Ireland XI played was at Lansdowne Road in 1973. Billed as Shamrock Rovers XI, they lost 4-3 to the then-world champions Brazil.

Northern Ireland stars like Pat Jennings, Martin O'Neill, Bryan Hamilton and Derek Dougan lined up alongside the likes of Johnny Giles and Terry Conroy.

Months before his death, George Best called for an all-Ireland team.

"I've always thought that at any given time, the Republic and Northern Ireland have had some great, world-class players," he said.

"I just believe in trying something. If it doesn't work, at least you've tried."

Dermot Ahern calls for an all-Ireland soccer team

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