Shock Irish call for West Ham's Rice after joy of Premier League debut
West Ham teenager Declan Rice made a second breakthrough in the space of 48 hours yesterday when he was drafted into the Ireland squad for this week's training camp in Fota Island.
The 18-year-old made his Premier League debut as an injury-time substitute for the Hammers on Sunday and Martin O'Neill has invited him into a gathering that is the first part of preparations for next week's friendlies with Mexico and Uruguay and the World Cup qualifier with Austria on June 11.
Uncapped Cork-born duo Kevin Long (Burnley) and Alan Browne (Preston) have also linked up with an Irish group for the first time. With all the goalkeepers in the original panel unavailable this week, Cork City's netminders Mark McNulty and Alan Smith will join in proceedings today to facilitate a normal session.
Rice's call-up is the interesting one given his lack of experience. The English-born product of the West Ham academy can play in central defence or central midfield and is well regarded by Hammers boss Slaven Bilic.
The Cork gathering is essentially an opportunity for the Championship members of the squad who've been out of action since May 7 to build their fitness.
But O'Neill has opted to bring in Rice - who has yet to be involved with Ireland at U21 level - and it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that it's an attempt to keep the youngster on-side.
The player is committed to Ireland and there is no suggestion that he has ever contemplating jumping ship to the country of his birth. But the loss of Jack Grealish and Scott Hogan's desire to hold on for an England cap is reflective of the competition for players.
Rice was the youngest Irish option to feature on a Premier League pitch this term - he was born in January 1999. Until his cameo appearance at Burnley, that title was held by the Clarets' Jeff Hendrick, who was born in 1992.
Aiden McGeady is the notable Fota absentee from the list of players who had full seasons in the Championship with question marks hanging over his club future after a successful loan at Preston.
Meanwhile, Austrian boss Marcel Koller has named a quartet of uncapped players in the squad for the Dublin trip.
Goalkeepers Daniel Bachmann (Stoke) and Markus Kuster (SV Mattersburg) are summoned along with defender Kevin Danso (Augsburg) and midfielder Konrad Laimer (Red Bull Salzburg).
The suspended Marko Arnautivic is the major absentee.
Ireland Squad Training at Fota Island:
McNulty, Smith (Cork City); Christie, Pearce, Keogh (Derby County); Duffy (Brighton); Boyle (Preston); Long (Burnley); Rice (West Ham); Egan (Brentford); O'Kane (Leeds United); Browne, Horgan (Preston); Hourihane (Aston Villa); Hoolahan (Norwich); Gleeson (Birmingham City); O'Dowda (Bristol City); David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town); Daryl Murphy (Newcastle).