The Irish footballing world is still reeling from the news that star midfielder Declan Rice will continue his international career with Gareth Southgate and England.
Rice has been embroiled in an international tug-of-war between England and Ireland since August when then manager Martin O’Neill outlined that he had been left out of the squad as he was still deliberating over his international future.
But how did Rice’s love affair with Ireland, begin and ultimately end?
Let’s take a look back at the timeline of Declan Rice in an Irish shirt.
May 23rd 2017 – The First Call-Up
After impressing at underage level for the Republic and making his Premier League debut, Martin O’Neill called Rice up to train with the senior squad for the first time, something the West Ham man and his whole family seemed genuinely excited about.
“To play on Sunday, to make my Premier League debut, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid, and then to get the call from Martin [O’Neill] to say that I was going to come in and train . . . it’s a dream come true.
“My family are so proud. I just wish my nan and granddad could be here to see it because they are from Cork and this training camp is in Cork, so it would have been lovely, but unfortunately they are not here.”
“I literally couldn’t believe it and my dad was just: ‘What?’ Nobody could believe it to be honest.
“I can’t put it into words; I started off last year with the under-17s really well but I never would have believed that I would get this far and get the call to come in for three days. Now that I’m here, though, I’ve just got to cherish it really and enjoy the experience.”
25th August 2017 – Keen To Impress
Looking comfortable at Premier League level with West Ham, Rice receives a call-up to the U21 squad and outlines how the taste of first-team training has made him hungry to battle his way into the senior squad.
“It’s nice to get the call-up to go away with the U21s and I can’t wait to meet up with the lads. I trained with the senior squad and I know Martin O’Neill is keeping an eye on my progress, so hopefully, I can play well and get myself into his squad.”
26th January 2018 – English Interest Begins
As Rice continues to impress as a part of West Ham’s first team, England manager Gareth Southgate admits that he is a player on his radar. Irish fans hold their breath, dreading a repeat of the Jack Grealish situation.
“He is somebody whom we know with our technical department,” said Southgate about Rice.
“We are across every young player and, of course, there are plenty of young players with dual nationality. Wales have several players who have been in our system and who have got caps.
“So we are always looking. We are aware of him, we are aware of his situation.
30th January 2018 – Only Eyes For Ireland
Just four days later a report comes out from John Fallon outlining that England’s interest has only cause Rice to reaffirm his stance and that he is fully committed to representing Ireland with a full international debut firmly on the horizon.
March 20th 2018 – “If I Didn’t Want To Play For Ireland I Wouldn’t Be Here”
A number of months pass and the England interest in Rice seems to have silenced as the West Ham man is awarded the U19 FAI player of the year and meets up with the squad in Antalya for a friendly against Turkey.
“There’s no decision to be made. I have not had a call from the FA and England have never wanted me at under-age level — it’s always been Ireland.
“I’m here with Ireland and I’ve been called up by Martin. I’m really looking forward to this week and I’m looking forward to getting to know the boys better.
“I’m fully focused on playing for Ireland,” he asserted. “There’s no decision to be made. If I didn’t want to be playing for Ireland, I wouldn’t be here
“No [I wouldn’t meet with Southgate], not at all. I’m fully focused on Ireland.”
The young man endears himself to the fans even further speaking of his love for the Irish national anthem
“I’ve probably played over 40 games in all for Ireland since I was a kid,” he continued.
“It’s such a good national anthem, it’s so catchy. You know the words straight away.”
Does he know what the lyrics mean in English? “No I don’t,” he replied, smiling. “I just know how to sing it. I think it’s good that you sing it before the games. It means something to you, it’s passionate.”
March 24th 2018- The Anthem Brings A Tear
Rice impresses in his senior debut against Turkey, he speaks following the game about how proud his grandparents would be to see him singing the Irish anthem
“It brought a little bit of a tear to my eye singing it and (remembering) my nana and grandad. It was a special moment.”
May 24th 2018 – Keane Defends Rice “He’s Irish”
After West Ham owner David Gold came out and said he wanted Declan Rice to be a “strong England defender for the England national team” Irish assistant manager Roy Keane hits back, and is adamant; “He’s Irish
“It’s going to be pretty difficult if he’s Irish,” Keane said.
“And he is Irish. He plays for Ireland. Where else would he want to go, if you had a choice, Ireland or England? It’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Ireland.”
June 2nd 2018 – The Future Is Now
Rice plays in midfield for Ireland in an international friendly and is the stand-out player at the Aviva Stadium as fans purr over the future of their side. A second Man of The Match award in three caps for Ireland. The future looks bright.
June 4th 2018 – Rice Dispels England Rumours (Again)
Just two days after Rice’s impressive performance against the USA, the English questions again rear their ugly head. Once, again, however, Rice vehemently shuts down any speculation about him switching allegiances.
“I just have to stay focused and play football with a smile on my face,” he said. “I don’t read too much into things and look at social media. It’s all a load of crap. It’s a question that keeps on being asked. But I’m just focused on playing and enjoying my football. There are two games in September (away to Wales in the Nations League on the 6th and a friendly against Poland on the 11th) and I’m looking forward to them.
August 24th 2018 – The Cracks Begin To Show
O’Neill holds crucial talks with Rice amid renewed England interest ahead of squad selection for September friendlies. His once so committed comments seem long forgotten.
“I’ll speak to him over the weekend and I’d hope that he knows that this Wales game is you committed. That’s the point he’ll have to take into deep consideration.
“England are looking at his situation so nothing is certain until it’s across the line.”
August 28th 2018 – A Turned Head & A Thousand Questions
At a press conference, O’Neill drops Rice and confirms England have been in contact and that he is considering his international future.
“He is still deliberating. He is a young man. England have spoken to him and we’re aware of that.
“He’s taking more time to make his mind up. He has done brilliantly for us.”
February 13th 2019 – A Proud Englishman
After months of speculation, discussion and deliberation, Rice releases a statement on his Twitter outlining that he will be representing England at international level.
“This afternoon I telephoned both Mick McCarthy and Gareth Southgate to inform them of my decision to submit a written request to FIFA for the transfer of my international registration from the Republic of Ireland to England.
“My pride at wearing the Irish shirt was always 100% genuine. It was a great honour for myself and my family, and something I will always cherish.”