Monday 22 July 2019

Roy Curtis: 'Without Declan Rice, Ireland's treacherous route to Euro 2020 is a highway laden with tripwires'

Declan Rice
Declan Rice

Roy Curtis

And so, in those rayless social media back alleyways, the joyless natural habitat of the eternally enraged keyboard warrior, Declan Rice is today's pig on a spit, scoundrel du jour, public enemy number one.

Sometimes, the wish can only be that the Three Lions, which Rice has decided will adorn all his future international uniforms, might be made flesh.

And set loose, growling with stomach-rumbling fury, on the faceless, forever enflamed Twitter herd.

In truth, the virtual spittle will wound Rice no more than a few benign glances from a gently inflatable shamrock.

His verdict has been handed down with the same unimpeachable logic of a Supreme Court judge issuing a final ruling.

As with the beyond-his-years, clear-headed thinking that has announced him as a Premier League matinee-idol in waiting, choosing England over Ireland is a triumph of clear-headed thinking.

Like all the higher caste footballers, he declined - even as impatient chaos informed the debate - to be hurried.

In the end, he chose World Cup semi-finalists ahead of a threadbare rabble who unspooled the very moment the featherweight artisan menace of Denmark or Wales entered the room.

How dare he!

He chose the land of his birth, his friends, his upbringing, his workplace.

Hardly a breach of the Geneva Convention.

Yet the reaction of some in Ireland could not be more lacking in nuance if Rice had endorsed the entire Black and Tan back catalogue while wearing a Cromwellian face mask.

Rice decomissioned his tricolour knowing it could open avenues to glory unimaginable with low-grade Ireland; he hardly required a degree in economics to calculate how it might inflate his career earnings.

That Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson are the fumbling twin sentries blockading his route to Gareth Southgate's gilded inner sanctum can only have convinced West Ham's toweringly gifted tyro that he is destiny's child.

Anyway, Ireland's departed hierarchy hardly preached a gospel of loyalty.

Martin O'Neill openly flirted with Stoke even as the FAI offered him a contract hardly merited by the meltdown over which he had so recently presided.

Meanwhile, Roy Keane, in something less than full Bord Failte mode, illustrated to the startled English-born Harry Arter a Rebel contempt for Ireland's reputation as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes.

Rice looked on, perhaps wondering when the next cuckoo might fly over the Abbotstown nest.

That this is a devastating blow to Mick McCarthy is beyond dispute.

Rice, rapidly ascending toward football's penthouse level, coveted by Chelsea, drawing admiring glances from Pep Guardiola, offered Ireland a backstop against unrelenting mediocrity.

Without the armour-plate of his excellence, the road to Euro 2020 looks as treacherous as a highway laden with tripwires.

To those who authentically care about Irish football, there will be a legitimate sense of hurt, of opportunity lost.

On Valentine's Eve, Ireland has been jilted, spurned, left to dine alone.

But rest assured, the keyboard warriors, their eyes a tricolour puce, will not rest until the national honour is restored.

Little wonder then that Rice - after an all too brief sitting - fled the belligerent Paddy field.

Online Editors

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