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'There's no reason why he can't feel some part English and also be very proud to play for Ireland'

Seamus Coleman has his say on Declan Rice’s situation.

– Paul Dollery reports from Cardiff

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND captain Seamus Coleman has expressed his hope that Declan Rice will soon return to Martin O’Neill’s squad, insisting that the versatile 19-year-old will be welcomed back by the players he won three caps alongside earlier this year.

Rice’s future in international football is uncertain after the London-born defender/midfielder was approached by the England camp with a view to having him represent his country of birth.

Declan Rice, Seamus Coleman and Alan Judge after the game Seamus Coleman embraces Declan Rice after the win over USA in June. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The West Ham United player starred in Ireland’s recent friendlies against Turkey, France and USA but opted not to join up with the squad for tonight’s clash with Wales. With Nations League fixtures classed as competitive action, Rice would no longer have the scope to switch his allegiance if he were to be involved.

His hesitation in committing to Ireland — whom he qualifies to represent via his grandparents from Cork — has been criticised by many, but Seamus Coleman articulated a measured view of the situation at last night’s pre-match press conference.

“I know some people back home might not like to hear it but he’s a 19-year-old boy who was born in England, but that’s no reason why he can’t be a proud Irishman,” the Everton full-back said.

“He got man of the match in the Turkey game and I saw him embrace his father in the tunnel. That’s not for show. That’s genuine. He was genuinely proud to play in the games that he did.  In an ideal world we’ll get him back, but it’s not as straightforward as ‘you know what you are’, which I’ve heard a few people say. 

“The young lad was born in England. There’s no reason why he can’t feel some part English and also be very proud to play for Ireland, which I know he is. Fingers crossed, we’ll welcome Declan back with open arms, whatever he decides.”

Tonight’s game will be Coleman’s first competitive outing at international level since the World Cup qualifier against Wales in Dublin in March 2017, when a dreadful tackle by Neil Taylor left the Donegal man with a broken leg that sidelined him for almost a year.

He subsequently missed the remainder of Ireland’s qualifying campaign, including the 1-0 win over the Welsh in Cardiff last October. The Boys in Green ultimately missed out on a place at this year’s tournament in Russia after losing a play-off against Denmark.

Seamus Coleman Seamus Coleman speaking at the pre-match press conference in Cardiff. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’m looking forward to the game,” Coleman said. “That’s 18 months ago now. It’s not something I’ve forgotten about but it is in the past. I’m looking forward. I was here as a supporter the last night to see the lads get that 1-0 victory, but that night in Dublin is something I’m not really thinking about.

“The rehab isn’t ideal. You don’t want to miss a part of your career, but once it happens the only way you’re going to get back on the pitch is by putting in the work. I got my head down, worked hard in the gym, worked hard with the fitness coaches and thankfully I’m back playing for my country.”

Martin O’Neill paid tribute to his captain by voicing the opinion that the loss of Coleman was pivotal in Ireland’s failure to secure World Cup qualification.

O’Neill said: “When he had the injury it was naturally a severe setback to us. I personally think that if he had stayed fit for the games, we would have taken our place in Russia. I can’t pay him a higher compliment than that. 

“He’s been top-class. And remarkably for a quiet young man, around the place he’s a very vociferous captain as well. He lets you know about it. World-class player.”

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Paul Dollery

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