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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 14 December, 2018

Ireland boss wary that Rice could still declare for England

Martin O’Neill touched on the situation the FAI had with Jack Grealish a couple of years ago.

Rice could make his senior debut on 23 March.
Rice could make his senior debut on 23 March.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WEST HAM YOUNGSTER Declan Rice was named in Ireland’s senior squad for the first time today, but Martin O’Neill has admitted that his long-term international future may not yet be resolved.

The London-born teenager has looked promising for the Hammers in the Premier League this season, prompting a call-up to the provisional panel for the training camp and friendly away to Turkey later this month.

There are high hopes for Rice, but England boss Gareth Southgate has confirmed that he is also on their radar and the 19-year-old will be eligible to switch back to his birth country until he lines out in a competitive match.

Having witnessed Aston Villa winger Jack Grealish win Ireland U21 Player of the Year before doing a u-turn and declaring for England, O’Neill hopes that Rice will commit but he is remaining wary.

“I think that it’s a point worth mentioning,” the Derry man said. “I would never take anything for granted. In my experience here, I’m talking about [Jack] Grealish for instance, who declared for England. I absolutely accept that.

“When you’re talking about Declan, this is a friendly game and he still has that opportunity [to declare for England] and I wouldn’t presume anything at all until someone says ‘This is what I want to do’.

I’d be hopeful that’s the case, but if someone decided to change their mind, and they are capable of doing that with the requisite papers, then that’s their choice.”

Rice and Manchester United goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara will travel with the group to Antalya before returning to Dublin to link up with the U21s for their European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday, 27 March.

The pair are two of five new faces in the senior set-up along with Blackburn Rovers duo Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams as well as former Shamrock Rovers full-back Enda Stevens — now with Sheffield United.

Matt Doherty of Wolves, Reading’s Liam Kelly and Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan are the other uncapped players on the 30-man panel, which will be shortened to 25 before they travel.

“We’ve got this opportunity and we want to introduce some of the players,” said O’Neill. “It’s a fine balancing act between just giving caps to players who may never be seen again, hopefully that’s not going to be the case, and introducing them into the international set-up.

“If they’re called upon over the next 18 months or two years, they’ve had a bit of experience and therefore it’s not a daunting task.

“Some of the players have retired and some of them are considering it, so it’s a good opportunity. We’ve got this game and a couple at the end of the season, but particularly in this match, it would be nice to introduce some players who have been on the periphery in the last number of months.”

Matt Doherty Matt Doherty will be hoping to win his first cap. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Along with Shane Long, Hogan and Preston’s in-form Sean Maguire make up the strikers with Daryl Murphy announcing his international retirement and Jon Walters left out.

When asked if the next six months is a real opportunity for them to stake a claim, O’Neill replied:

Absolutely, I think that’s exactly it. I don’t really want to put undue pressure on them but I think they will see this as an opportunity.”

Maguire’s team-mate Alan Browne has been playing extremely well in Preston’s midfield this term and will look to build on the first cap he earned in 2017.

“Some of the games I’ve been to see him play and he’s been excellent,” he said of the Cork native. “He hasn’t dominated in all the matches but he is very, very good. All the staff at Preston and the chief executive think the world of him and he deserves his chance.”

O’Neill went on to say that he is delighted to have team captain Seamus Coleman back after sitting out the past 11 months with a broken leg.

“While Cyrus Christie did brilliant for us during his absence, Seamus is a world-class player and an absolutely fantastic captain.”

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Ben Blake

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