'It's an embarrassment' - Kevin Kilbane leads the criticism as Ireland legends blast Declan Rice award decision
IRISH international football is a laughing stock after the farcical decision to name English player Declan Rice the FAI Young Player of the Year.
Three former Ireland international heroes have hit out at the decision, with Kevin Kilbane branding it an “embarrassment” and Niall Quinn saying it was hard to believe, given Rice had turned his back on the Irish team.
Legendary defender Richard Dunne yesterday told the Herald it was the wrong decision.
"I don’t think it’s right that we have Ireland’s best young player potentially making his debut for England a few days later," he said.
West Ham player Rice was yesterday named as Ireland’s best young player of 2018, despite the fact that he switched his international allegiance to England just last month.
The football association confirmed he was to win the prize at the FAI International Awards, taking place this Sunday.
The voting happened before Rice’s decision to switch was made and Dunne said it was honourable of the FAI to proceed with the award.
"I think it’s very honourable of the FAI, but if the games he played aren’t important enough to make him qualify for Ireland then I think the voting should only be done on qualifiers," he said.
Quinn said he thought someone was "messing with him", when he heard the news.
"I heard subsequently that to keep voting systems regular they had to deliver the answer that was given by the journalists on the panel, I don't think that’s true at all," he said.
"They should give it to the guy in second and forget about Declan Rice forever.
"I just feel it’s a really strange thing to have to put up with as a fan, we went through enough... heartache might be the right word,” Quinn told Virgin Media Sport.
"When you see someone blatantly turning down the question of being Irish, I find it hard to believe."
Meanwhile, Kilbane said he thought it was an "embarrassment" and said the award should be scrapped.
"We’ve been embarrassed enough as it is, so if we’re going down this road now, don’t get me started on it,” he told the broadcaster.
"We are struggling for underage players, we know that, so scrap the award, I think it’s an embarrassment."
Rice won three international caps in green during 2018, and produced a number of impressive performances.
In a statement, the FAI said the decision to name him as the Young Player of the Year despite his defection "maintains the integrity of the voting process in conjunction with the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland".
One journalist member of the committee who voted said he was "fully aware of how ridiculous it looks now" but said they were asked to pick the best under-25 player of 2018.
In a statement, the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland said its officers endorse the stance taken by the jury of its members requested to select the FAI’s Young Player of the Year in January.
"Match performances in 2018 was the sole criteria and they decided at that meeting to stick with the decision, regardless of future developments," it said.
Rice will not be in attendance to receive the award, with the ceremony to be shown live on RTE. He played Turkey, France and the USA, but since all three caps came in friendly matches, he was able to switch.
The 20-year-old decided after much deliberation, having improved incrementally as a player, to switch allegiance from the country he represented at both youth and senior levels.
He was born in London and has Irish grandparents and considers himself "to be of mixed nationality".
Last week saw his switch to England ratified by Fifa, as his three senior caps for the Republic came in friendlies.
The midfielder is set to be named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad this afternoon.
Kilbane, who was born and raised in England to Irish parents and is one of this country’s most capped players, had questioned Rice’s motives at the time he decided to switch.
"If you’re a 'proud Englishman' then why play for us in the first place?" he said.
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy issued a statement, confirming Rice had phoned him to say he had decided to "give it a go" with England.
"Good luck to him," McCarthy added.
He said Mark O’Toole, the Ireland scout who saw the potential in Rice and picked him out of obscurity, was disappointed with the news.
"I feel for Mark because he found him for us and nurtured Declan as a player and helped develop his career, something Declan has publicly thanked him for in the past," he said.
At the time Packie Bonner, who played in the golden generation teams to represent Ireland in the World Cups of 1990 and 1994, said he didn’t see Rice as much of a loss.
"Once you’re out, you’re out – that’s it, time to move on," he told the Herald.
Rice’s grandparents on his dad’s side, Jack and Margaret came from Douglas, Co Cork, before moving to England.
They were overjoyed to see him play at U-16 level before both passed away within a fortnight of each other in 2016.