O’Neill won’t force Rice hand on England decision

In calling up Declan Rice to his squad for this month’s training camp and friendly in Turkey, Martin O’Neill has stressed that the highly-rated young West Ham defender, who is still eligible to play senior football for both Ireland and England, will not come under any pressure to decide his international future.

“We brought him in last year down in Fota Island for a number of days, he’s a genuinely good kid, but he has got choices to make,” said O’Neill.

“We would love to have him but this is not going to disrupt him in that sense and he would be aware of that.

The last thing I would want to do is turn around and say ‘yeah, this is it’ when in fact it’s not. We’d like to have him and I would hope he would want to do that in return. It would be great, but the decision will be his and his alone.

Along with Rice, other newcomers to the Irish squad are Blackburn Rovers pair Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams, Manchester United ‘keeper Kieran O’Hara and Sheffield United defender Enda Stevens.

O’Hara and Rice will report directly to the Ireland U21s after the trip to Turkey in order to be available for the European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan on Tuesday, March 27 in Tallaght Stadium.

Captain Seamus Coleman returns to the senior squad a year after suffering a broken leg in the World Cup qualifier against Wales, while Greg Cunningham, Alan Judge, and Sean Maguire are also included following long-term injuries.

Darren Randolph and Stephen Ward are two of the established names who are being rested on this occasion while there are no places for John O’Shea and Glenn Whelan, two veterans who, it has been speculated, could be following Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy into international retirement.

O’Neill confirmed that there are indeed senior players who are contemplating hanging up the green shirt but declined to name names.

“I’ll keep it as collective rather than individualise things at the minute, only because there are some things I’d like to announce later on, not today,” he said.

“I’ll leave it at that at this minute. It was always my intention to leave out a group of senior players for this particular match.”

When pressed, O’Neill added that he would have “certain thoughts” on the possibility that the next home friendly — against the USA at the Aviva on June 2 — could be the occasion for a send-off for some of the team’s most decorated players.

The provisional squad — which will be cut from 30 to 25 before flying out to Antalya — will meet up ahead of the 3 FAI International Awards on Sunday, March 18 and depart for Turkey the next morning.

The FAI also announced yesterday that the late Jimmy Magee will be named as the Special Merit Award recipient at the awards ceremony.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND SQUAD:

Rob Elliot (Newcastle United), Colin Doyle (Bradford City), Kieran O’Hara (Manchester United), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Declan Rice (West Ham United), John Egan (Brentford), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United), Kevin Long (Burnley), Alex Pearce (Derby County), Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers), Greg Cunningham (Preston North End), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Alan Judge (Brentford), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Harry Arter (Bournemouth), David Meyler (Hull City), Eunan O’Kane (Leeds United), Liam Kelly (Reading), Alan Browne, Daryl Horgan (Preston North End), James McClean (West Bromwich Albion), Shane Long (Southampton), Scott Hogan (Aston Villa), Sean Maguire (Preston North End).



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