Ireland newcomer Declan Rice says he is trying to impress Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane in Cork this week but there are no plans for the centre-back, eligible through his late grandparents from Douglas in Cork, to travel to America next week.
The 18-year-old West Ham defender was the surprise call-up for the three-day training camp at Fota Island that concludes today.
His elevation came just days after a Premier League debut was afforded by Slaven Bilic in the final minutes of Sunday’s victory at Burnley.
The Croatian native has taken a shine to the defender and received glowing reports about the prospect from trusted friends following the youngster’s displays in March for Ireland’s U19s at the Uefa elite qualifiers in Belgium.
Rice was soon promoted to the first-team bench for the Hammers, eventually receiving the elusive Premier League bow which all budding Irish players crave.
That breakthrough was enhanced further when his club Academy chief Terry Westley informed him he was to make his way to Cork for the gathering of O’Neill’s fringe players.
As it stands, he won’t be part of the panel that travels to New York on Monday to face Mexico in a friendly but he is just glad to be in the senior fold. “I’ve just got to work hard in training and try to impress Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane,” said Rice.
“Terry Westley called me and I was sat at home and just couldn’t believe it when he said Martin O’Neil had called him up to say he wants me to go to the training camp. My heart was pounding and I was thinking: ‘Is this true?’
“My grandparents were from Douglas in Cork and I visited there a few times when I was younger. It’s a lovely place and I plan to go back there a bit more as I still have some relatives there.
“It’s a pity that my nan and grandad aren’t alive because its nice to be here in Cork where they’re from.”
Rice was shocked by the call-up but had some practical advice from O’Neill’s first-choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph as the pair sat on the bench together at Turf Moor on Sunday.
“Darren just told me to be myself,” Rice said. “That’s the way I’ve approached it and really enjoyed the few days training.
“The plan after this is to do well in pre-season for West Ham and push towards their first-team. If not, I could go on loan instead.”
Although he was part of the Ireland U21 squad at a training camp in La Manga last November, Rice has yet to win an official cap at that level but will be part of Noel King’s squad for the Euro qualifier against Azerbaijan in September.
The strides made by the Londoner in recent weeks have understandably aroused the interest of England and, while Gareth Southgate and his underage coaching staff are expected to formalise their intentions by making an approach to the player over the summer, there is no hint of him defecting.
“My feet are always on the ground,” Rice reasons. “I know making my Premier League debut is only a tiny step in my career, so I’ve just got to keep focused and keep on a good path with the coaches around me and I’m sure I’ll go far.”
The Cork connection was strong at Fota Island yesterday, with Cork City goalkeepers Mark McNulty and Alan Smith taking part in the session along with local lads John Egan, Kevin Long, Conor Hourihane and Alan Browne.
Both McNulty and Smith have now returned to their club to prepare for tomorrow night’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division clash with Shamrock Rovers at Turner’s Cross.
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