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O'Neill: 'The Republic of Ireland have done just about everything to sell the country to him'

Declan Rice has won three senior caps for Ireland but England are keen on the West Ham youngster.

– Paul Dollery reports from Aviva Stadium

MARTIN O’NEILL HAS not given West Ham United youngster Declan Rice a deadline to make a decision on his international future.

Rice, who represented the Republic of Ireland from U16 to U21 level before making his senior debut in March, has been omitted from O’Neill’s latest squad as he weighs up his options.

Martin O'Neill Martin O'Neill speaking at this afternoon's squad announcement. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 19-year-old defender/midfielder made a “terrific” impression, according to O’Neill, while playing for Ireland in the friendlies against Turkey, France and USA earlier this year.

However, the London-born player can still opt to change his allegiance to his country of birth as he has yet to play for Ireland in a senior competitive international.

Ireland return to competitive action against Wales in Cardiff on 6 September, which will be their opening game in the inaugural Uefa Nations League.

But as things stand, Rice won’t be involved after he wasn’t named in O’Neill’s provisional 31-man squad for the clash with the Welsh, which will be followed by a friendly against Poland in Wroclaw five days later.

Speaking at this afternoon’s squad announcement, the Ireland boss confirmed that Rice — whose grandparents hail from Cork — has had contact from the England set-up.

“He is still deliberating,” O’Neill explained. “He’s a young man. England have obviously spoken to him. We’re aware of that. I think he just needs a little more time to make his mind up. He has done brilliantly for us. But England is the place of his birth and they have talked to him. We respect that.

“I think he just wants a little bit more time, which is probably to do with the fact that he’s started the season with a new manager at club level as well. He’s trying to cement down his place there. I’m still hopeful, but I’ve said from the beginning that until something is nailed down, it’s never over the line.”

Declan Rice Rice standing for the national anthem before Ireland's win over USA in Dublin in June. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Since making his debut for the club in May 2017, Rice has played 33 first-team games for West Ham. However, he has seen only 45 minutes of action so far this season, having been unused by new manager Manuel Pellegrini since he was substituted at half-time in their 4-0 defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the campaign.

“I’ve spoken to him and I’ve spoken to his family,” said O’Neill. “His father is an absolute gentleman. He’s very keen on him playing for us. The lad just wants a little more time. I’ll always be hopeful but I wouldn’t give you some sort of a percentage. I’ll just give him more time.”

After winning the FAI’s U19 player of the year award back in March — just days before his senior debut against Turkey — Rice insisted that he’s committed to Ireland:

“There’s no decision to be made. I’m here with Ireland and I’ve been called up by Martin. I’m really looking forward to this week and I’m looking forward to getting to know the boys better. I haven’t had a call from anyone at the [English] FA. Not at all. England have never wanted me at underage level, it’s always been Ireland.

As well as breaking into Ireland’s senior squad, Rice has been a key player for the U21s in their European Championship qualifying campaign. Ireland trail Group 5 leaders Germany by three points, but Noel King’s side — who play Kosovo and the Germans next month — have a game in hand in their bid to reach next year’s tournament in Italy and San Marino.

O’Neill said: “I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Declan has loved playing for Ireland. He’s been brilliant for us at senior level in the games. After the matches — the Turkey game where his father was out — it was a really joyous moment.

“In terms of selling, I think the Republic of Ireland have done just about everything to sell the country to him in that sense. He’s been really welcomed by the players, welcomed by everybody, welcomed by the fans. I’m not sure what else we can do. If the country of his birth come calling then he has a choice to make. At this moment I haven’t given him a deadline. I think he wants just a little bit more time.”

He added: “The England manager has obviously seen the games he’s played for us and thought: ‘Hold on’. If I was the England manager and any young players were on the horizon, I’d want to make sure I’ve spoken with them before they would make a choice. That came as no surprise.”

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Paul Dollery

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