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The FAI chief would like to see a "32-county soccer team" in Ireland but believes that it would only happen in the event of a political change

The chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has revealed that he would like to see a unified Ireland football team, but conceded that it would first have to happen "politically."

Speaking to Irish radio station Today FM, FAI chief John Delaney said that while he would personally like to see a "32-county soccer team" he respected the position of the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA) which governs football in Northern Ireland.

"I think the country has to be united before anything like that happens. It has to happen politically before it can happen in a sporting way," he said.

"I would never say this as chief executive of the football association, but I've said this many times before: I'd love to see a 32-county soccer team.

"But that's more of an issue for the IFA than the FAI really in my opinion. I respect that they've got their own football team and that they're a member of Uefa.

"We get on very well with the members of the IFA. But I've always said that any 32-county soccer team would be inextricably linked to a political structure and I genuinely believe that."

Delaney also dismissed the suggestion that the appointment of Martin O'Neill as manager of the Republic of Ireland would lead to greater numbers of players switching from the IFA to the FAI.

Derry native O'Neill was capped 64 times for Northern Ireland and captained the team during the 1982 World Cup in Spain, but the FAI chief said that players would "always want to declare" for Ireland regardless of the manager.

"First and foremost, before Martin O'Neill came to manage Ireland, [players switching association] has always been there," he said. "There is a history of kids from the north of Ireland who want to play for the Republic of Ireland and that will continue.

"There are players who will always want to declare for us, regardless of who our manager is. That's the simplicity of it.

He added: "We get on very well with the IFA apart from this issue. This is an issue that does affect them and I can understand their position.

"But more to the point I can understand why a kid from Derry would want to play for the Republic of Ireland."

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