Kevin Sheedy: 'We should pursue all players who qualify for Ireland. It's a policy that has served us well'
Kevin Sheedy has insisted Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill is right to continue to try and entice players with duel nationality to declare for his squad, as the debate over the futures of Declan Rice and Michael Obafemi continues.
English-born Rice has asked for more time to consider his international options after collecting three senior Republic of Ireland caps, while Southampton teenager Obafemi has hinted he may not commit his future to Ireland despite earning a call-up to the senior squad for the first time this week.
Welsh-born Sheedy became an Ireland legend when he scored his country's first goal in a World Cup finals against England in 1990 and he believes Ireland need to keep all doors open to players who may be able to revive the flagging fortunes of the national team.
In an exclusive interview with Independent.ie, Sheedy reflected on his own decision to commit his international career to Ireland, as he insisted Rice should be given the time he needs to finalise his plans.
"I was 16 when I was picked for an Ireland youth team and never had any doubts about accepting the call-up," says Sheedy, who qualified via his Irish father.
"It was all about gaining experience for me at the start and it turned out to be a wonderful period for Irish football when I got into the senior team with Jack Charlton.
"I don't know what Declan Rice is thinking at the moment, but from my experience, the chance to play for my country was too good to turn down and I never had any doubts that my country was Ireland.
"Maybe some of the lads who were not born in Ireland have a few doubts over where their loyalties lie and if that is the case, they need to step back and make a decision that is right for them and our national team.
"Everyone is an individual. Rice has to make that decision, it is his career and we have to respect that he will eventually announce what he wants to do.
"I think we are right to continue to pursue players who qualify for Ireland who are not born there because we need the best players possible to give us a chance at international level. It is a policy that has served us well, so we should not walk away from it now."
Sheedy went on to suggest under-pressure O'Neill is still the man to lead Ireland into 2019, despite mounting pressure on the Ireland boss and his assistant Roy Keane ahead a woeful run of form in the last 12 months.
"Expectations are massive with Ireland and maybe some of them are unrealistic at this moment," he adds.
"A lot of the fans who go to the games now grew up watching the team I was a part of qualifying for World Cups and European Championship finals and that's what they want to see now.
"Back then, we had players from all the top English clubs playing for us and that is why we had a successful team, but times have changed and Martin O'Neill is trying to find a way to get the best out of a set of players who are not playing at the top end of the Premier League.
"It's been a difficult few months for Ireland, but I still believe O'Neill is the man to get things moving in the right direction. We have had some difficult results, but the players have to roll their sleeves up and turn it around.
"They have this game against Northern Ireland and the difficult game away in Denmark on Monday and have to find a way to grind out a few results and get the positive feeling back. Ireland fans always back their players and that support will always be there, even if this is a challenging time for this current team."