Martin O’Neill’s extended provisional squad gained two more exciting prospects during the week. Alan Browne and Declan Rice have both joined in the international set-up earning their first call-ups.
Both are highly regarded at their clubs and O’Neill has taken a chance on casting his eye over youth, something he can be reluctant to do at times. With players like Glenn Whelan and John O’Shea pushing on, it is refreshing to see two youngsters given the chance to impress at Fota Island.
Having already looked at Kevin Long in detail, we now examine Ireland’s two latest call ups starting with Cork-man Browne.
Career so far
Browne came through the famous Ringmahon Rangers youth set up to secure a deal with hometown club Cork City. His promise in the first team caught the attention of overseas clubs and Preston came calling in 2014. Cork who have a strong reputation of attracting UK-based clubs saw Browne leave without a first team appearance, similar to current Ireland striker Shane Long when he left for Reading as a teenager.
Browne made his Preston debut a couple of months after joining and immediately made an impression at Deepdale. This came alongside a number of caps in the Irish underage set up where he captained his country at various levels. In 2015 he helped North End gain promotion to the Championship where he was a regular starter. In the same year he was named FAI under-21 Player of the Year.
Although rotated occasionally, Browne has been an important player as Preston pushed for the play-offs only to drift away from the chasing pack towards the seasons climax. He was joined by fellow Irishmen Aiden McGeady, Greg Cunningham, Andy Boyle, Daryl Horgan and Eoin Doyle in the squad this season.
He is highly regarded by Simon Grayson and there has been speculation around Browne who has attracted interest from Crystal Palace and Bournemouth in the past. Developing well at Deepdale under Grayson, Preston seems the best fit for the 22-year-old right now.
Style of play
A leader on the pitch, Browne is a technically gifted player who is comfortable in possession capable of playing as a holding midfielder or in a flat midfield two. Browne has also acted as the anchor in a midfield three at time for Preston and operates best sitting slightly deep.
His calmness on the ball is balanced well with his aggression on it and although slight in built, the youngster has plenty of bite in his tackle as well as the competency in staying tight to his opposing midfielder. He received a red card against Newcastle earlier in the season in what was a rare occasion of recklessness with his aggression often fair.
He is the ideal O’Neill type player given his bundles of energy and willingness to run all day. Players like this can sometimes lack poise on the ball but Browne has this in abundance making him talented well rounded midfielder and an alternative option for his country. He has a similar playing style to his name-sake Scott Brown, a combination of energy, box to box play and aggression all rolled into one.
Browne become one of the youngest squad memberers when called up only to be quickly eclipsesed by the even younger Declan Rice, the 18-year-old West Ham youngster.
Career so far
In first-team terms, Rice’s career only began last Sunday and lasted one minute. However there is more to the story than this brief appearance with his call up certainly more than a token gesture. Born in London, Rice has a strong Irish connection that saw him commit at under-16 level. He qualifies through his grandparents and like Browne has captained his country in the past.
The captain of West Hams development side, Rice joined the prestigious academy from Chelsea in 2014 and quickly began to expand an already strong reputation. West Ham’s academy has seen the likes of Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Glenn Johnson graduate to the first team and Slavan Bilic was quick to promote the youngster to the bench for several ties this season prior to his debut on Sunday.
There is still a lot to learn about his potential and ability but at under-23 level, Rice is one of the top defenders in England. A leader who seems to be considered well beyond his years by Bilic, Rice was named the FAI Under-17 Player of the Year for 2017 as well as West Ham Young Player of the Season. A youth team-mate of fellow Irish men Anthony Scully and Josh Cullen, Rice could be the first in a line of Hammers graduates pulling on the Green jersey.
Style of Play
Rice is an imposing yet calm defender who has been described as a standout player at under-23 level. He is strong at intercepting through passed and is positionally sound. Although mainly used as a commanding leading centre half, he is capable of playing as a holding midfielder. This shows his abillity with the ball at feet and shows a terrific blend between a traditional tough centre half and a modern day ball playing defender.
Rice is also a two footed player making him comfortable across the back four. This versatility bears a striking resemblance to veteran John O’Shea in his younger days and Rice may have his eye on the Sunderland captains international spot when he eventually calls time on a decorated career in green.
With very minimal amount of senior action under his belt it is hard to know how Rice will cope in the coming months. His momentum form the end of this season at under-23 level, his debut and Ireland call should leave him full of confidence. It is silly to get carried away given the brief time Rice spent on the pitch on Sunday. However the hype did exist well before Sunday and given the rave reviews he has gathered over the last couple of years, Irish fans have every right to be excited.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena