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Joint football bid hailed as example of potential for post-Brexit co-operation

File photo dated 15/06/16 of traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A joint bid by Northern Ireland and the Republic's football associations to host a major football tournament in Europe shows how organisations can work together in a post-Brexit world, the head of the Irish Football Association (IFA) has said.

Chief executive Patrick Nelson was speaking after it was revealed that the IFA and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) are making a joint bid to host the European Under-21 Championships 2023.

Mr Nelson said both organisations are good at hosting tournaments similar to the under-21s' event, adding that they can still deliver after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union next March.

Speaking at Windsor Park on Thursday, Mr Nelson said: "We're pretty confident we can put up a compelling bid and story together. What it will show is that organisations like ours can work together in a post-Brexit world.

"There are degrees of uncertainty that all of us are facing every day with Brexit coming up. There are many subjects on which you could say 'how is this going to work? how is that going to work?' and the answer is we don't know yet.

"What we're confident about is that we know what Uefa are looking for, we know we can deliver it and deliver it in a compelling way.

"Our execution in both countries in terms of tournaments like this is good, so I think in a post-Brexit world we can deliver."

The bid has been described as "historic" as it is the first joint bid by the FAI and IFA.

The European Under-21 Championships is the second biggest football tournament after the Uefa Euros.

A formal bid will be put together next year, with the decision expected to be made in 2020.

Mr Nelson also moved to quell rumours of tension between the organisations after Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill accused the FAI of targeting players from a nationalist background to switch allegiances to play for the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland-born James McClean, Shane Duffy and Darron Gibson all play for the Republic.

Mr Nelson said: "We know that players have a choice, and we accept that players have a choice, and our job here in Northern Ireland is to make a pathway that is the best it can be and to encourage players to play for Northern Ireland and wear a green shirt.

"That's what I'm focused on on a daily basis. In terms of our overall relationship with the FAI, I think we have a good relationship.

"I have known John (Delaney, FAI chief executive) for nine-and-a-half years and we've got on well. We speak regularly at Uefa meetings and I've got no doubt that between us and the two associations we'll put together a really good bid and give Uefa a lot to think about in terms of hosting this tournament."

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