Republic of Ireland braced for possible Declan Rice switch
THE Republic of Ireland are bracing themselves for the prospect of a huge blow after Declan Rice was left out of the squad for the upcoming games with Wales and Poland because “he is still deliberating”.
The 19-year-old London-born central defender, who qualifies for Ireland through his Cork grandparents, has been approached by the English FA.
West Ham’s Young Player of the Year last season appeared to have made his decision when he featured in three friendly games for Martin O’Neill’s side.
But he remains eligible for England as he has not yet played a competitive fixture, and rumours began to swirl last week that his head was being turned by English interest and stories of training ground disputes in the Irish camp.
Rice had said previously that there was “no decision to be made” as he had committed to Ireland, having come up through their youth system, but O’Neill admitted this afternoon that he’s been omitted from the squad to allow him time to make his choice.
“He is still deliberating. He is a young man. England have spoken to him. He is taking time to make his mind up. He has done brilliantly for us. I'm giving him a little bit of time,” said O’Neill.
After making his debut against Turkey in March, Rice suggested he was happy to remain a part of the set-up with the Republic.
Asked if he might have a change of heart, he replied: "Nothing. I've come away, played in the game and loved every minute of it.
"I've loved being around the team and at the moment I'm fully focused on playing with Ireland."
Following the 1-0 defeat to Turkey, Rice - who has been capped at several youth levels of Ireland - went on to feature in two further friendlies at the end of last season.
The meeting with Wales in Cardiff in the newly-formed Nations League constitutes a competitive fixture and so, if Rice had played, he could then be tied to the Republic of Ireland for the remainder of his career..
"I wouldn't be exaggerating to say Declan has loved it with us," added O'Neill.
"After the Turkey game his father was there and it was a joyous moment for them. We have done everything we can. He has been welcomed by the squad, the fans. He is taking time and I am respecting that."
Elsewhere in O'Neill's squad, former England youth international Callum Robinson has received his first call-up.
Preston striker Robinson, previously capped at England Under-20 level, qualifies for the Republic of Ireland through his grandmother and now has international clearance.
"His paperwork has gone through to represent us competitively," O'Neill explained.
"I saw him recently against Norwich. He is a nice footballer. I will be encouraging him to take players on. That is what I want Robinson to do."
Goalkeeper Sean McDermott, 25, has also been handed a first senior call-up as the former Under-21 international has impressed with club side Kristiansund BK in Norway.
O'Neill is without a host of regulars with the likes of Robbie Brady, Scott Hogan, Sean Maguire and James McCarthy missing through injury.