Republic of Ireland switch speculation around Paul Smyth seems a bit silly now 4 years ago

Republic of Ireland switch speculation around Paul Smyth seems a bit silly now

Paul Smyth had a senior international debut to remember on Saturday.

20-year-old Paul Smyth came off the bench for Northern Ireland against South Korea in Windsor Park. With the game level at 1-1 and the clock winding down, Smyth made an instant impact.

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Five minutes after entering the game, he was doing a back-flip in celebration of a goal on his debut. The Queens Park Rangers winger shrugged off his marker just inside the penalty area and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net. He took one touch and with his next, he got his name on the scoresheet.

With that goal, he became the first Northern Irishman in 17 years to score on his international debut. The fans sang, 'Paul Smyth's on fire' as he did his acrobatics.

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The allegiances debate

Smyth's debut for the Green and White Army came during an international friendly. Therefore, he could still declare for the Republic of Ireland if he wanted to. He's represented Northern Ireland at u19 and u21 level. In fact, he actually played 90 minutes for the u21s just 48 hours before he bagged that memorable goal at Windsor Park.

The main reason why the public debate over whether Smyth might declare for the Republic gathered momentum was the 'Catholic' comment by Michael O'Neill. The Northern Ireland boss infamously said that the FAI 'only ever approach one type of player: Catholic.' 

A lot of people either forgot, ignored or didn't buy what O'Neill said later in that interview about Smyth. After bringing up Northern Irish players who watch GAA, he said he had no fear over Smyth deciding to play international football a little further south on the island.

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Martin O'Neill telling the Mirror that Smyth 'still hasn't made his mind up about things,' only gave the rumblings more legs. But, he also said he would not be actively trying to pursue a player who's already in his namesake's squad.

Although he hasn't officially confirmed Northern Ireland is his choice, everything that has happened recently appears to indicate it probably will be? Look at the reception he got. He's adored by fans, was a cult figure at Linfield and has openly talked about how welcoming his Northern Ireland teammates have been since he broke into the squad.

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Martin O'Neill is correct. In the end, it will be his choice, but from the outside looking in, it just feels as though his choice has already been made. To have his head screwed on that tightly at such an early age, you can't help but feel happy for him.