Saturday 24 March 2018

Decision on Ireland's call will come down to Declan

Call up: Enda Stevens
Call up: Enda Stevens

Martin O'Neill says he won't put unfair pressure on in-form defender Declan Rice to commit his international future to the Republic of Ireland.

Rice, who has made 18 Premier League appearances for West Ham this season, has previously trained with the Republic's senior squad but he has now received his first proper call-up, for the friendly in Turkey in two weeks' time.

Londoner Rice is not a player hedging his bets at international level as he plans to report to Dublin for U21 duty just after what should be his senior bow in Turkey, and he is a committed member of that U21 squad which has a chance of a first-ever qualification for the European Championships.

But with Gareth Southgate interested in Rice, and the fact that Jack Grealish spent four years in the Irish underage system before opting to play for England, the FAI cannot take it for granted that Rice will stay with Ireland.

"He is going to play with us," O'Neill says of a role for Rice in that Turkey friendly.

"We brought him in last year down in Fota Island for a number of days, he's a genuinely good kid, but he has got choices to make. We would love to have him if that's the case but this is not going to disrupt him in that sense and he would be aware of that.

"We'd like to have him and I would hope he would want to do that in return and it would be great, but the decision will be his and his alone."

Having lost Grealish after a long saga, O'Neill says it's a balancing act between keeping a dual-eligibility player on side and making him panic.

"When we took Declan on, he was an up and coming young kid but he hadn't made the progress at the time. There was no pressure on way back when we took him into the senior squad, I am hoping that will augur well because he had none of those things to concern himself with, talking about England might have been a long way away.

"So it is a balancing act, you want to do as much as you possibly can to encourage the player to come and maybe try and convince that he will have a better chance playing for you but it's a case where you don't want to go too far in the other direction."

Rice features in an uncharacteristically youthful-looking O'Neill squad, with Shane Long the only outfield player over 30.

There are eight uncapped players (Kieran O'Hara, Matt Doherty, Declan Rice, Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams, Enda Stevens, Liam Kelly and Scott Hogan), three one-cap-wonders (Alan Browne, Alan Judge and Sean Maguire) and another player who is keen to end a five-year wait for his next cap (Greg Cunningham).

O'Neill stated that some senior players have been excused from duty this time but will return for more caps (Stephen Ward, Darren Randolph).

John O'Shea, Glenn Whelan, Paul McShane and Aiden McGeady are not in the squad and O'Neill admits that some of those may return in June for the home friendly against the USA for a send-off into retirement.

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