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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018

18 for 18: The Irish prodigy catching the eye in the Premier League with West Ham

In the latest of our 18 for 18 series, we assess the prospects of Declan Rice.

Declan Rice has impressed with West Ham in the Premier League this season.
Declan Rice has impressed with West Ham in the Premier League this season.
Image: Mike Egerton

Over the next 10 days, our 18 for 18 series will look at 18 Irish athletes aged 18 or younger set for a big 2018. You can read the rest of the series here

NOWADAYS IN PARTICULAR, it takes a special talent to play Premier League football at the age of 18. Declan Rice certainly falls under this category, having caught the eye for West Ham this season. Born in London, Rice qualifies to play for Ireland through his Cork-born grandparents and has represented the Boys in Green at various age groups from U16 level onwards.

Rice made his Premier League debut in a 2-1 win over Burnley on the final day of last season, while he has racked up several top-flight appearances this season as well. Capable of playing at centre-back or as a defensive midfielder, Rice drew praise for his performance in the former position as the Hammers came desperately close to ending Man City’s winning run, only for David Silva’s late goal to break West Ham hearts.

Rice remains a rough diamond. In the City game, he was beaten to the ball for the first goal by Nicolas Otamendi. When playing in midfield against Newcastle earlier this season, he surrendered possession for one of the goals and was subsequently taken off at half-time. The fact that he is learning from these mistakes at such a young age can only be beneficial to his long-term development. There is no doubt too of his huge potential.

Speaking after the City game on Match of the Day 2, pundit and former Birmingham and West Ham central defender Matthew Upson said:

“This lad, for his first Premier League start at centre-back… he’s started two before so it’s his third start in the Premier League but they were in midfield. He handled himself brilliantly.

“He was in a back three and I thought his decision-making — when to come out and when to hold his position — like in these types of dangerous areas where he identifies it, releases himself and just tidies up nicely.

“He did that all afternoon. I think it’s natural but I think he has been working on it (too). It’s something he has been doing in training, I think he’s very aware of tactically improving at such a young age.”

It has been a memorable few months for the teenager and the next step is getting capped at international level.

It’s more than a year until Ireland’s first Euro 2020 qualifier, and there will be plenty of friendlies and Nations League matches before then, most notably the recently announced fixture away to France.

Rice, who has impressed for the Ireland U21s in midfield along with fellow West Ham youngster Josh Cullen, has already been called up to train with the Irish senior squad, and 2018 may well be the year when he finally wins his first cap for the national team.

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Paul Fennessy

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