Declan Rice takes his Irish chance with style in assured debut

West Ham defender: ‘I think there is something in me. I’m composed and I’m a calm player.'

Declan Rice in action against Turkey’s Yusuf Yazici during the friendly international at the Antalya Stadyumu. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Declan Rice expressed his delight as he made his way from the Antalya Arena after his senior international debut. Barely an hour before the game started, he still didn't know whether he would play any real part in the night. An hour or so after its conclusion he was happy to admit that he had one to remember.

“I thought I did well for only being 19 years old on the international scene, I was proud of myself and thought I performed well,” said the young West Ham star.

“I’ve played in thousands of games but this was a big stadium and a loud crowd so the fear that you might slip up is always there in the back of your mind. You have to stay fully focused

“But 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 those onto the international level tonight.”


Martin O’Neill, he said, had only told him he would be playing when he named the team at the stadium and he was, he admitted, “buzzing” from that point on.

The manager, he said, had told him: “You only have one chance, go and take it,” and the teenager had done just that. Afterwards, O’Neill spoke admiringly of the way that Rice had looked to make positive runs forward from the centre of midfield but he was already well on the way to a good night by then with the former Chelsea youth looking like a veteran at times as he sought to marshal the players in front and beside him.

“Yeah, to be fair, I’ve got that in me, a bit of a leader,” he said. “With Duffy about, I think he’s got more of it than me but it’s part of what we do as centre halves.

“We lead from the back, act as an extra set of eyes,” he said. “We can see everything in front of us. If we’re not opening our mouth, essentially you could be done with a through ball or shot.”

There was a little touch about that with the goal Ireland conceded but the greater disappointment was that it was from another short corner.

“Yeah, that’s frustrating,” he said, “because all week, we’ve been banging on about the set pieces and to concede one tonight is not what we wanted. We threw our bodies on the line and to concede like that puts a bit of a downer on the night.”

For all that, he says: “I’ve come away, played in the game and loved every minute of it. I’ve loved being around the team and at the moment I’m fully focused on playing with Ireland.”

Ireland may be a little more focused on him too now.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times