The prospects of Declan Rice reaffirming his allegiance to Ireland are rapidly receding after bookmakers last night stopped taking bets on the West Ham United mainstay defecting to England.
Martin O’Neill will announce his squad on Thursday for the up-coming Nations League double-header against Denmark and Wales, with there being little chance at this stage of Rice altering his stance of placing his international career on hold.
The 19-year-old took the unprecedented step of making himself unavailable for the trip to Wales earlier this month despite playing all three of Ireland’s friendlies since the World Cup qualification campaign ended last November. One minute of competitive action would have wedded him permanently to the Ireland cause.
While O’Neill is adamant the Londoner’s deliberations stem from renewed interest by England, former Ireland international Jason McAteer claimed over the weekend that Rice witnessing the row between Roy Keane and Harry Arter in June contributed to his withdrawal from service.
O’Neill has emphatically denied any suggestions that Rice became embroiled in the bust-up, which led to Arter also calling a time-out on his Ireland career, but it is unclear whether the incident involving O’Neill’s assistant formed part of his sudden change of heart.
There was further bad news for O’Neill last night after it emerged Gareth Bale will be fit for the visit of Wales to the Aviva on this day fortnight.
An MRI scan showed no groin muscle damage despite the talisman being forced off with the injury during Real Madrid’s draw against Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Defeat to the Welsh earlier this month, a 4-1 humbling in Cardiff, leaves Ireland playing catch-up in the Nations League campaign after just one game.
O’Neill admits the two up-coming home matches, starting against Denmark on Saturday week and then Wales rematch three days later, are crucial to their fate.
Ireland will only have one fixture left, the trip to Copenhagen on November 19, after these pair of outings. The Boys in Green must avoid finishing last in the three-nation pool to avoid losing their second seeding in the Euro 2020 draw which Ireland will host in Dublin on December 2.
On the up-side, the Ireland boss will at least be certain to have available for the forthcoming tests the services of James McClean, who fractured his wrist in between the last international matches against Wales and Poland.
It had been feared that the winger’s lay-off would rule him out of the next Ireland matches, yet his recent declaration while home watching Derry City win the EA Sports Cup that he was ahead of schedule proved accurate.
Stoke City manager Gary Rowett has declared the winger fit for game against Bolton Wanderers.
He was one we thought about for last Saturday against Rotherham but the surgeon’s advice was that this game gave him four weeks to allow the bone to knit together a lot more,” said Rowett.
“Then the only risk is if he falls uncontrollably on the arm.
“James comes back into the squad and it’s just whether I feel he would be fit enough to start.”
O’Neill will be waiting to see if Robbie Brady features for Burnley against Huddersfield Town to be sure the attacker is available. Brady has returned from a long period on the sidelines to figure for the Clarets’ reserves last week but needs first-team action to convince Sean Dyche he can withstand the rigours of two games for Ireland in quick succession.
Doubts continue to persist over captain Seamus Coleman and his Everton teammate James McCarthy. Whatever about Coleman bouncing back from a stress fracture, McCarthy would appear to be still a long shot of being available for Ireland.