Wednesday 20 February 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Declan Rice return would represent significant victory for Mick McCarthy regime'

 

Murmurs that Declan Rice was likely to stick with Ireland have grown in volume and significance over the course of the past week. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Murmurs that Declan Rice was likely to stick with Ireland have grown in volume and significance over the course of the past week. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There have been hasty declarations made during the course of the Declan Rice saga, so there is a natural caution about making definitive statements until the player himself comes out and makes his intentions clear.

But murmurs that Rice was likely to stick with Ireland have grown in volume and significance over the course of the past week. Leading FAI officials are now extremely confident that Rice will opt to stick with Ireland.

Mick McCarthy's planned meeting with the teenager is understood to have gone well and tying down Rice will represent a significant victory for the new boss. That said, it must be acknowledged that his predecessor Martin O'Neill had not given up hope of keeping Rice (right) on board.

During the course of the UEFA Nations League autumn, the silence from the Rice camp was construed as a negative for Ireland's prospects.

That changed as time ticked by. The process of securing an international transfer is a complicated business, as it involves both associations and FIFA. In the case of Jack Grealish, it took seven months for clearance to be processed.

If Rice wanted to put himself into Gareth Southgate's plans for the kick-off of Euro 2020 qualifying proper he would realistically need to have the wheels in motion already. The first step involves the player writing to FIFA looking for a switch. That hasn't happened.

Rice doesn't need to do anything formally if his preference is for Ireland. As it stands, he's an Irish player. No paperwork is required from that end.

It's believed that O'Neill was negative about the prospects of Rice staying put during October, and he was given reason to feel that way by a number of reports emanating from England which stated with certainty that his decision was made.

By the time November came around, however, O'Neill had come around to the possibility that Rice remained keen on the Irish option. The belief was that the player's agent and the contractual situation at West Ham were the main factors pushing the youngster towards England.

He had actually enjoyed his time with Ireland and his decision to stall was not related to any dissatisfaction with that experience. The player's father, Sean, made that clear in his first conversation with McCarthy.

There was always a good chance that McCarthy would strike common ground with the player given that he also grew up in England yet arguably enjoyed the best days of his life in an Irish jersey.

He brought Robbie Keane into the equation too, but McCarthy's own experience is very relevant in the context of eligibility debates.

The Irish squad have also been quite understanding of his position, even though there was some disquiet in September with James McClean making it clear that he wasn't keen on the idea of any individual turning down a call-up.

Seamus Coleman did subsequently vouch for Rice's sincerity - offering the view that his emotion after playing against Turkey in March was real rather than forced.

His delay was always going to antagonise Irishmen who have dreamed of nothing else but representing their country.

However, the flip side of that argument is that the 19-year-old could be one injury away from seriously losing his value; he's earning £3,000 per week at the moment which is half of an average salary with a middle-tier Championship side. That impasse with his contract came at a bad time for Ireland.

It's just one of the ways in which the Rice situation contrasted from the drawn-out affair involving Jack Grealish that culminated with the Aston Villa talent jumping ship.

Grealish's family were pushing him to declare for England. Rice's father Sean has always wanted him to go the Irish route. The most interesting thing that O'Neill said at his October squad announcement was that other close relatives who were initially favouring the English angle had come back around to Ireland. These observations were lost in the frenzy surrounding a Sky Sports report that an English deal was done - it broke just as the 66-year-old was offering that information to newspaper reporters - and it resulted in O'Neill being tracked down by cameras for a fresh reaction. At that point, it felt like the game was up.

Confirmation that Rice will be available for the Euro 2020 journey will be a major boost for Ireland's qualification prospects.

With James McCarthy's development stunted by injuries, Ireland lack an accomplished central midfielder who can be effective as a defensive shield in addition to setting the tone in terms of ball retention.

Rice showed those capabilities in his Irish cameos and has shone for West Ham.

It hasn't been a hugely encouraging year for Ireland in the Premier League save for Matt Doherty's significant improvement.

That's because Rice had been written out of the equation. His likely return is a cause for festive cheer.

Irish Independent

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