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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Rice thankful to O'Toole for Ireland call

West Ham and Ireland player Declan Rice. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
West Ham and Ireland player Declan Rice. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Declan Rice counts John Terry and Roy Keane amongst his heroes but the influence of another less conspicuous man bodes well for Irish football.

Mark O'Toole was earlier this weekend name-checked by Aidan O'Brien as kickstarting his international career and while the ongoing ascent of West Ham United's Rice is more rapid, the FAI's most successful English-based scout is centrally involved.

The English FA, fresh from almost losing Brummie Jack Grealish to Ireland, have applied a more rigorous approach to monitoring dual-nationality prospects and it is inevitable they will intensify efforts to dissuade Rice from closing the option of switching to his homeland.

The 18-year-old added to the Premier League debut he earned on the final day of last season by clocking up six more outings for the Hammers so far this season.

London-born but declared for Ireland since 16 through his Cork-born grandparents, Rice is satisfied with where his international career rests. This evening at Tallaght Stadium, he'll win his second cap for the Under-21s in their European Championship qualifier against Norway, with another fixture with Israel to come at the same venue on Monday.

"I'm still eligible for Ireland's Under-19s so I don't expect to in the senior squad full-time," he confessed. "I'm very happy to be with the Under-21s. Mark O'Toole from the FAI has looked after me well back in England to the point that I consider him a father figure.

"Mark always told me my chance with Ireland would come once I worked hard and he was right."

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