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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 15 August, 2018
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'Get him capped' - Ex-Ireland midfielder feels time is right to call up West Ham teenager Rice

The 19-year-old Hammer, who is comfortable at centre-half or in midfield, has impressed Keith Andrews immensely.

Rice, in action for Ireland's U21s, alongside Ulrik Jenssen of Norway.
Rice, in action for Ireland's U21s, alongside Ulrik Jenssen of Norway.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WITH NO MAJOR tournament to look forward to this summer and eight months until the Nations League kicks off, Ireland’s next fixtures will be the perfect opportunity to blood some young talent.

In an aging squad, there remains uncertainty over whether a number of the more experienced players will commit for another campaign.

Although he was a latecomer to international football, Wes Hoolahan is 35, while Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy (all 34) aren’t far behind.

At 36 and with 116 caps to his name, John O’Shea has been an incredible servant to his county but the group’s oldest member looks well past his best at this stage.

The rebuilding job has been helped by the fact that seven players were handed senior debuts in 2017 — Alan Browne (22), Sean Maguire (23), Daryl Horgan (25), John Egan (25), Conor Hourihane (26), Andy Boyle (26) and Kevin Long (27).

Now Martin O’Neill is set to stay in the job for another two years – FAI chief executive John Delaney revealed today that the contract will be signed by early next week – he will be the man tasked with identifying new players and bringing them through during the upcoming friendly games.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Sky Sports pundit Keith Andrews expects it to be more evolution than revolution.

“I have faith in him (O’Neill) getting us to Euro 2020 and we are going to go through a transitional period, but I don’t think it can be a vast one,” said the former Ireland international.

“The nucleus of the squad will stay together, I’d like a little bit of clarity on who’s going to retire and if some of the elder statesmen can do another 18 months.

“Can their bodies live up to it or do they need that downtime during the international breaks to prolong their club careers? That has to be sorted out in the coming months.

“I’d imagine some of the U21s will come in and around the squad and if there are any exceptional talents a little bit lower than that, maybe don’t start them or cap them but have them at training sessions for that bit of integration.

I think we need a bit more positivity around and to be excited by something. That may well be someone who has been on the periphery of the squad or someone who has been in it already but hasn’t shone yet.

“I watch games every single weekend in England and I’m not seeing 10 players that aren’t in the squad that should be in there — that’s what I will stress.”

Britain Soccer Premier League Declan Rice (pictured here with Dele Alli) was excellent against Tottenham earlier this month. Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

The likes of Wolves full-back Matt Doherty, Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan and Aidan O’Brien of Millwall have been included in squads without earning caps to-date so you would imagine they will be afforded chances.

Then there is West Ham’s Declan Rice, who has enjoyed a breakout season in the Premier League. The teenager, who turned 19 this past week, has shown real promise under both Slavan Bilic and his successor David Moyes — making 12 appearances in all competitions for the Hammers.

Comfortable at centre-half or in midfield, London-born Rice is an Ireland U21 international and he even trained with the senior set-up last May. However, the current Hammers’ Young Player of the Year will be eligible to switch to his birth country until he is capped by Ireland’s first team and Andrews would like to see that happen sooner rather than later.

Get him capped, absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been very, very impressed with him for our U21s and for West Ham as a left-sided centre-half and marauding forward as a midfielder.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him play, it’s effortless the way he plays. His game understanding, composure… he’s a very, very bright talent. I know people at West Ham and in terms of his temperament, his character and his willingness to learn and improve, everybody can not praise him highly enough.

“The next trip is Turkey but Noel King might have a bit to say about that as they would be taking him away from the U21s. We need to give him a bit of love now and get him involved.”

2018 SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme Launch Andrews and Ireland WNT full-back Megan Campbell (centre) at the launch of the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s programme yesterday. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

As he mentions, next up for the Boys in Green is their away trip to Antalya to play Turkey on 23 March before a meeting with France on 28 May.

Further down the pecking order, is there anyone else Andrews would like to see given a chance?

“I think (Preston’s) Greg Cunningham has come back from injury and played very well. Matt Doherty has been in the last squad, but they would certainly be two. Scott Hogan has been in and out of squads and he is starting to notch a couple of goals in an improving Aston Villa team.

“There aren’t loads, but one player who has played very well this season is Alan Browne at Preston. People might say he’s not particularly easy on the eye, but he’s a very effective player. He’s playing in an advanced midfield position at club level. He looks really confident, fit and strong.

“So players like that but there aren’t bundles for Martin to choose from. Can someone pop up from the League of Ireland and become a talking point? Patrick McEleney is going across the water (to Oldham Athletic). Who can kick on? Richie Towell hasn’t done spectacularly well at Rotherham but he’s been decent. Who can put their head above the water, because there is certainly opportunities now.

“If I was a player on the periphery, which I was when I made my mark, I took my opportunity and I think there are opportunities there for players to come in, kick on and stake a claim.”

The SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme was launched with a pop up training session at Scoil Mhuire CBS, Dublin yesterday, where former Republic of Ireland footballer and past pupil, Keith Andrews, and current Republic of Ireland women’s footballer, Megan Campbell, provided a coaching masterclass to students from Scoil Mhuire CBS and St Vincent de Paul’s Girls NS. The five-a-side school blitzes are open to boys and girls from 4th, 5th and 6th class, and puts emphasis on fun and inclusivity. Register for the SPAR5s by February 9th at www.fai.ie/primary5

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