McClean's Republic move spawns death threats

For James McClean, southern strategy prompts northern ire.

For James McClean, southern strategy prompts northern ire.

Rising Irish soccer star James McClean has faced online death threats for his decision to turn out for the Republic as opposed to Northern Ireland.

The 23-year-old Derry native and Sunderland player was subjected to sectarian abuse on social networking site Twitter this week, and was even warned he would be shot, because of his decision to join the Irish squad for the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

The sectarian abuse was made by loyalists in the North who reacted to the young player's tweet that he was "honored" to "represent my country."

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One sickening threat, which dubbed McClean a "dirty fenian b******" stated: "I'll make sure you get shot when you set foot back into Gods (sic) country."

Northern loyalists often claim Ulster is "God's Country and in a separate tweet, another user told James: "U deserve to be shot for that comment! Your (sic) playing for Ireland and not the country you were born in."

The hate filled comments reflect the ongoing row in Ireland over northern nationalists opting to play for the Republic, rather than the Northern Ireland squad - which failed to qualify for the European finals.

In the past, Catholic players complained of sectarian abuse from Northern Ireland fans, while Windsor Park, the South Belfast home of the North squad was often bedecked in union flags and loyalist symbols.

Since the Troubles, the Irish Football Association, which runs the NI team, have made noticeable efforts to make the squad less of a "cold house" for nationalists; yet numerous players are still opting to play for the Republic at senior level, often despite having played for the NI Under 21 squad.

This issue has been highlighted by some unionist politicians, who have complained that northern players should not be allowed to join the Republic's team if they have been trained at the expense of the IFA, and if they have no "blood link" to southern Ireland.

However, both FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport - which deals with international sporting disputes - have ruled nationalist players, who often hold Irish passports - can play for whatever side they choose.

James has made light of the online "threats" in his own tweets, but previously revealed why, as an adult soccer player, he decided the Republic's team was his best option.

"Even in the squads I felt a bit of an outsider," he said of his time as a young Northern Ireland player.

"You're looking around as a Catholic and seeing all the union flags and listening to the songs the fans sing and I just didn't feel at home."

McClean is one of two North players in the Republic squad. Darron Gibson, also from Derry and who plays for Everton, is also in the lineup.