Wednesday 19 December 2018

O'Neill to name young star Declan Rice in Turkey squad

Declan Rice, right.
Declan Rice, right.

Colin Young

Declan Rice will this week be named by manager Martin O'Neill in the Republic of Ireland squad to face Turkey in a friendly at the end of the month.

The 19-year-old West Ham defender is ready to end the uncertainty surrounding his international future when he makes his senior debut for Ireland in Antalya.

London-born Rice, who can also play as a sitting midfielder, has been a regular in David Moyes' Hammers squad this season and although he has only made seven Premier League starts, his assured performances have alerted England manager Gareth Southgate. He is also in negotiations to sign a new, improved contract with West Ham.

But the former Chelsea junior, who is eligible for Ireland through his grandparents, has represented the country's youth teams and at under 21 level. He has previously declared his intention to continue his progress through to the senior Irish team and was called up for the World Cup qualifier against Austria last year and two friendlies. Involving him in the squad now, and then for the summer friendlies against France and the United States, is intended to cement Rice's place in O'Neill's long-term plans.

O'Neill is also considering a call-up for Rice's West Ham team-mate Josh Cullen, who had a run of three FA Cup games under Moyes after returning from his loan spell at Bolton.

On Thursday, O'Neill will name his first squad since Ireland's World Cup exit in November and since he turned down a return to club management with Premier League strugglers Stoke City.

Ireland play in the coastal resort of Antalya against a Turkish team who, like Ireland, failed to qualify for the summer World Cup finals in Russia.

The Ireland manager, in line to take charge of his third qualifying campaign, vowed to bring in new blood before the start of the new Uefa Nations League competition next season when they face return games against World Cup 2018 qualifying opponents Denmark and Wales.

In reality, following the international retirements of Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan, if O'Neill wants to name as many as 30 in the squad, any player being picked regularly in the top two English divisions could be called up.

The biggest boost, however, will be the return of captain Seamus Coleman, who played the full 90 minutes for Everton in their defeat at Burnley yesterday.

Senior players John O'Shea, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan have yet to declare their international intentions and may not be involved this month, but instead given the opportunity to use the American match as a farewell to Irish supporters.

Following the furore in the wake of his meeting with Stoke in January, O'Neill, his assistant Roy Keane, and the rest of the coaching staff have been scouring the leagues for players, and this is expected to be an opportunity for emerging talent in the Championship to make the breakthrough.

There is no shortage of defenders to choose from, and Matt Doherty of leaders Wolves is one of a number from the EFL who can expect a run-out on Friday, March 23, along with Preston's fit-again Greg Cunningham, Sheffield United regular Enda Stevens and Brentford captain John Egan.

The lack of regular starts for experienced midfielders James McClean, Harry Arter and David Meyler is a concern for O'Neill but could offer an opportunity for Cunningham's Deepdale team-mate Alan Browne, who has been in fine form, plus young players Eunan O'Kane of Leeds and Liam Kelly at Reading.

There are also concerns in the forward department. Shane Long, who still has just one goal all season, has been absent for nearly a month with a hamstring injury, although he is expected to return to the Southampton squad this week. This squad may be too soon for Long's teenage Saints team-mate Michael Obafemi following his brief cameo appearance in January. Sean Maguire scored twice yesterday for Preston on his return from a three-month lay-off, and Millwall striker Aiden O'Brien is close to a comeback from a knee injury. Aston Villa's Sean Hogan has been starting and scoring at last for Steve Bruce's promotion-chasers.

O'Neill, however, is facing a goalkeeping crisis. Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot have been injured for most of the season and out of the teams at Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle, while Ireland number one Darren Randolph kept his 16th clean sheet of the season for Middlesbrough in their Friday night win over Leeds.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield winger Sean Scannell is set to declare for Northern Ireland after failing to secure a regular place under O'Neill. The 27-year-old, who has been struggling with a groin problem during his loan at Burton Albion this season, was called up by Giovanni Trapattoni in the Italian's first and final Ireland squads.

Elsewhere, record goalscorer Robbie Keane is ready to make a move into management and will take charge of Indian Super League team ATK for their final game of the season against NorthEast United today.

Keane, 37, has taken charge of the side in the wake of Teddy Sheringham's sacking earlier this year and after caretaker boss and director of football Ashley Westwood stepped down.

"I've been given responsibility for the team ahead of the game, we've prepared these last few days to the best of our ability," said Keane. "The training sessions have been enjoyable, everything is ready and I'm excited for the challenge."

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