Ireland face battle with England as Gareth Southgate confirms he is keeping tabs on Declan Rice
Promising Ireland U-21 star on England manager's radar
The English FA are preparing to test Declan Rice's loyalty to Ireland after Gareth Southgate confirmed his situation is being monitored.
Rice's emergence at West Ham has been the positive Irish story of this Premier League season and he has moved up from U-19 level to become an important member of Noel King's U-21 squad.
Martin O'Neill invited the London-born defender - who can also play in midfield - to train with the Ireland squad in Fota Island last summer.
And he has dropped a strong hint that Rice will be called into the squad for the March friendly in Turkey.
The 19-year-old, who qualifies through the grandparent rule, relished that Cork opportunity as that's where his family hails from and there has been no suggestion that his commitment to Ireland has wavered.
But some urgency might be required after Southgate admitted that England have been watching the player - although he did suggest that any pursuit would be led by technical director Dan Ashworth.
"He is somebody whom we know with our technical department," said Southgate.
"We are across every young player and, of course, there are plenty of young players with dual nationality. Wales have several players who have been in our system and who have got caps.
"So we are always looking. We are aware of him, we are aware of his situation.
"It's more one for Dan Ashworth as technical director than for me as senior manager."
O'Neill spoke highly of Rice when his progression was raised at Wednesday's UEFA Nations League draw in Lausanne.
"He's done very well," the Ireland boss said. "We took him down for a little bit of training in Fota Island last year, he was an impressive young man I must admit.
"I don't think it's any major surprise to see him break through, particularly when West Ham were having some difficulties. The very fact that the manager puts him in, in those circumstances, I think speaks volumes for him."
O'Neill will look at younger faces in the Turkey camp and the summer window which will consist of a friendly in France and another game in Dublin.
"You would like these players to have some experience of playing - particularly these games away from home - a big atmosphere in Turkey and certainly in France," he said.
But, in the case of Rice, the real bonus would be cementing his place in the squad for the longer term. FIFA have confirmed that a Nations League outing would tie the player down.
Former Irish midfielder Keith Andrews said on his 'Newstalk' online show that he is 'worried' about losing Rice - a player that he feels could be good enough to captain Ireland in five years' time.
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