Disappointed with the result and, especially, the concession of a goal from a set-piece he might have been but Martin O’Neill made no secret of the fact that a big consolation in defeat for Ireland in Turkey last night was the assured debut of Declan Rice in both defence and midfield.
“I thought he did excellently,” said the manager.
“He’s played left-side centre back for West Ham, and at this minute I think he’s getting accustomed to a number of positions which I think we talked about at start of week. I had no hesitation in putting him into the middle of the field.
"It was a man of the match performance and I thought he was excellent for us. Considering it’s his debut, and he’s 19 years of age, it was an impressive performance from an impressive young man.”
O’Neill said he was particularly pleased to see the debutant seize the initiative and drive forward with real conviction, something he has always been asking of even his more senior players.
“I’ve been urging that now for the last number of years,” he said.
“I think it separates the average player from the decent player. If there’s space to go into and you have the ball and feel comfortable, just drive into it and things can happen, things can open up.
"It’s not just driving stupidly with it. Declan Rice made one run there, an absolutely super run, things opened up and it’s great he had the confidence to do that, especially for a 19-year-old. And as he gets more comfortable with the ball he will sometimes, instead of playing it backwards, he will go forwards.
“I never think it’s too late, if you have space in which to drive into, to do that. I was told this as a player myself — things can happen for you. You should be trying to make things happen in a game.”
With the praise of his manager and his captain – Seamus Coleman described his performance as “excellent” – ringing in his ears, Declan Rice himself had plenty of reason to be pleased about his international debut.
Earlier in the week, Shane Duffy revealed he was “shaking” when he first played for Everton but, in Antalya last night, the 19-year-old suffered no such heebie-jeebies when stepping out with Ireland.
“No, nothing,” he said afterwards.
“I think there is something in me. I’m composed and I’m a calm player. You’re only out there for 90 minutes and you have to give it everything you’ve got. It’s a game of football at the end of the day. I’m only 19, but I’ve had good experiences with West Ham this year and I’ve tried to take that on to international level now.
“It helps that I’m playing at a good level from a young age and being around top players every day. I like to make myself busy and ask questions of the older players. I like to know what position I’m supposed to be in and I think I take that all on board.
"When you come into a game like that, you kind of remember the times you spoke to the senor professionals. I’ve played in thousands of games, this was a big stadium and loud crowd but any chance of slipping up is in the back of your mind so you have to stay fully focused.”
When did he find out he was starting?
“It was actually an hour before the game. He (O’Neill) didn’t name the team until we got in there.
"Personally, I usually like hearing the team but this was something different and, yeah, when I heard it I was buzzing and fully concentrated as I knew I needed to give a good performance.
“He said just to literally give it everything I’ve got. But I knew that myself anyway. You only get one chance and you have to take it.”
As to his future, short of wrapping himself in a tricolour after this friendly, Rice could hardly have sounded more enthused about a long-term career in the green shirt.
“I’ve come away, played in the game and loved every minute of it,” he said. “I’ve loved being around the team and at the moment I’m fully focused on playing with Ireland.”
So no change of heart then, an English colleague asked, perhaps a tad plaintively? “No, nothing.”
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