Thursday 18 July 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Demands for loyalty from Rice sit uneasily with our desperate chase for 'granny rule' players'

'How is it possible to get on the high horse about the prospect of losing Rice (p) on the basis that Ireland were good to him and then welcome Will Keane?' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
'How is it possible to get on the high horse about the prospect of losing Rice (p) on the basis that Ireland were good to him and then welcome Will Keane?' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

As the wait for Declan Rice to refresh his social media status with an international football update goes on, the debate will continue.

Last week, former West Ham youth coach Danny Searle broke from the consensus across the water by concluding that Rice should pick Ireland

"The Republic put their faith in him and have given him some fantastic experiences," said Searle. "If I was him, I would stick to the people that have been loyal."

It's a point that has been made before, and it's one that could be seized upon by any Irish voices keen to engage in some last-minute lobbying. 'Don't let us down now Dec - we were there for you first.'

A noble thought, but one that requires a bit of consistency. There is no suggestion that the FAI have played that card. In truth, it would be hypocritical to do so given that the wait for Rice's declaration is running in tandem with Mick McCarthy's desperate pursuit for attackers.

Nathan Redmond, who has a senior England cap after playing at every level from U-16 to U-21, has been sounded out. Progress has been made with Patrick Bamford (Leeds) and Will Keane (Ipswich) who have spurned Irish advances before.

Seeking players through eligibility rules is what we do. Scouts are employed with that purpose. Rules are there to be exploited and it's true to say that pretty much everybody else is doing it. That's pragmatism.

There are tranches of Ireland supporters who are relentlessly curious about recruits. It's the closest thing to transfer speculation in this sphere. New is exciting.

But there is something slightly undignified about seeking out twentysomethings that have said no before. This is a different to going after a teen who is open to coming on board early and integrating.

There have always been voices that have felt uneasy about opportunistic players dropping in as Plan B. Indeed, some of those voices have resided within the Irish dressing room, although scepticism is generally shelved when these individuals apply themselves professionally.

The fact that Ireland have now experienced the negative consequences of the increasingly flexible rules should encourage pause for thought. How is it possible to get on the high horse about the prospect of losing Rice on the basis that Ireland were good to him and then welcome Will Keane? He was resolute in his determination to go with England in his youth while his twin Michael did at least try out the FAI set-up before following his heart.

These pursuits are demoralising for players who would otherwise be on the brink of a call that would mean the world to them and now drop further down the queue behind window shoppers.

Obvious question marks hang over Dundalk's record-breaking Patrick Hoban after his underwhelming stint in England. Salford's ex-Aberdeen attacker Adam Rooney was overlooked when he was on fire in Scotland. Cillian Sheridan's wanderlust has possibly cost him caps.

Nobody is claiming that these players are the answer. But are they really less deserving of a cap than Keane - a 26-year-old who has scored a grand total of seven goals in a career peppered by injury problems?

He is playing at a higher level, but there's a niggling feeling that he should be doing exceptional things to warrant a call. Scott Hogan was a temporary obsession because of his exceptional exploits at Brentford but subsequent events would suggest that there was actually a better all-round player coming through in the shape of Seán Maguire.

Where should the line be drawn? The fear - which ties in with recent criticisms of the Irish U-21 set-up - is that prospective recruits will be favoured due to a sense that there's a need to get them in the door.

Grandparent rules have been good to Ireland, but there is a persuasive argument for asserting that players need to have their colours nailed to the mast at a certain age.

There is optimism about Irish groups coming through at U-17 and U-19 level and it would be deeply unfortunate if those players found their path to senior status blocked by lads who had no interest in pulling on the green shirt at that stage.

Ahead of a week where he assembles a home-based U-21 squad, Stephen Kenny's approach to this subject will be interesting, especially as he takes a dim view of ranking players according to their status in the English ladder. Mick McCarthy's short-term gig demands a quick response and casting the net wide is all that he has known as an Ireland manager. If Bamford, Redmond or even Keane come along and help the team to the Euros, the end will justify the means.

But it's hard to sell this as progress. For the sake of self-respect, Irish football needs to aspire to be better.

Irish Independent

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