Richard Dunne: Declan Rice’s Ireland future lies in midfield

Declan Rice might have been deemed the sacrificial lamb as all of West Ham went like lambs to the slaughter at Liverpool yesterday but Richard Dunne has no doubts that the 19-year-old has a huge amount to offer Ireland.

Richard Dunne: Declan Rice’s Ireland future lies in midfield

By Liam Mackey

Declan Rice might have been deemed the sacrificial lamb as all of West Ham went like lambs to the slaughter at Liverpool yesterday but Richard Dunne has no doubts that the 19-year-old has a huge amount to offer Ireland.

Having previously featured at the back, Rice was deployed in a central midfield role by Manuel Pellegrini at Anfield but, with his side already two goals down, was withdrawn at half-time. Not that the change made any difference for the visitors as the Irons continued to go under hammer, two more goals in the second half sealing a 4-0 win for Liverpool.

The good news for Rice — who still requires a competitive international appearance to copperfasten his commitment to Ireland — is that he won’t very often have to contend with the kind of relentless red swarm which made life so torrid for West Ham yesterday. And Irish legend Richard Dunne is certainly of the belief that it is in midfield, rather than defence, that Martin O’Neill can make the most of Rice’s talent.

“He’s got the energy, he’s got the skill and I thought he showed how much he has to offer us when he was pushed up against Turkey,” said Dunne.

“He can play all over but I think, really, it would be best for Ireland to utilise him there because he can stride forward and pick out a good pass and still help with his defensive attributes. I went to watch him in an U21 game in Tallaght last year and he was brilliant in central midfield. He played like someone who was years ahead of his age.

“There might even be times when Martin plays three at the back and Rice can drop back into that. But, as it is, I think we have enough options at centre-half. Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy are both playing in the Premier League, two players in their mid-20s and already with plenty of experience. And I think with those two and Rice playing in front of them, we’d be solid enough.”

Big Duffy and Big Dunney are often mentioned in the same breath these days, and the latter is certainly a fan of the former. ”Shane’s been outstanding and I think the fans really react to someone that they know is going to put his head in where it hurts and give 100%,” Dunne said. “He already looks like the leader of the group, the kind who rolls the sleeves up and gets lads working together.

“It’s also going to be huge for us in the Euro qualifiers that we make the most of our set-pieces and defend the ones against us properly. The stats from the World Cup show how important they are and Shane has a big role to play there.”

Along with the likes of Ray Houghton, Stephen Hunt, Amber Barrett, and other current and former Irish football notables, Dunne has been on a whirlwind tour of Cork over the last few days, visiting 14 clubs in his ambassadorial role as part of the Festival of Football leading up to the 2018 AGM.

“At that grassroots level it’s important to see how it is evolving in Ireland,” he said.

When I’m talking to the kids about being a professional footballer, I always say that, first and foremost at this stage, the most important part is to make sure that they’re enjoying themselves playing with their friends. The time to learn and take things more seriously is in the future. For now, it’s about participation and enjoyment because if they enjoy it now, they’ll want to keep coming back. From what I’ve seen going around the clubs over the last three days, there’s a different coaching emphasis for different age groups and that’s important too. Even with young kids you can give them small instructions to help them enjoy the game more but, in terms of tactics and all that side of it, the time for that is when they become teenagers. Their studies have become harder in school and their brains can actually take in more complicated instructions.[/quiote]

Dunne was himself a product of the famous Home Farm nursery but still maintains he learned some of his most formative football lessons on the streets of Tallaght. “That’s where you have the freedom of development rather than being told exactly what to do,” he observed. “You make your own decisions and learn from your own mistakes. On the street it used to be that you had to battle against kids who were three or four years older than you. When I was growing up we were always better than the English schoolboy teams when we played them and now because they’re all in academies people think they must be the best. But it doesn’t have to be that way in terms of producing footballers.”

The FAI Festival of Football continues its tour of Cork city and county this week, with another 21 clubs to be visited, a Fun Day at the Mardyke Arena on Thursday and other events taking place in the run-up to Saturday’s 2018 AGM.

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