Martin O’Neill impressed with Declan Rice’s drive on debut

‘He put in a man of match performance, I thought he was excellent for us’

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill on the sideline during the friendly international against Turkey at the Antalya Stadyumu. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Only recently turned 19 and with less than a season of first-team football under his belt, Declan Rice announced his arrival on the senior international scene here in Antalya and Ireland manager Martin O’Neill hailed the teenager’s performance on a night when, he acknowledged, the wider display highlighted how much work is still to be done.

“I thought he did excellently in the game,” said O’Neill who started the teenager on the left of a three-man defence before shunting forward into midfield midway through the second half.

“He put in a man of match performance, I thought he was excellent for us, he drove forward with the ball, he’s 19 years of age and it was an impressive performance from an impressive young man.”

That drive he displayed late on, O’Neil suggested, was the key quality displayed in a debut to remember with the manager suggesting that it is something too many of his senior players fail to do when the opportunity arises.


“I’ve been urging it 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, you have the ball and feel comfortable then drive into it . . . things can happen and open up.

“Rice made one run there, a super run, and things opened up because he had the confidence to do that. That’s terrific for a 19-year-old; it’s something I’ve been urging all of the senior players to do.

“I never think it’s too late if you’ve space to drive into. I hope the message is not just coming from me, I hope it’s coming from club managers. I was told as a player myself and it was something you wanted to do .Things can happen for you and you’re trying to make things happen. That’s really what it’s all about.”

If the teenage emerged as Ireland’s success story, then there were shortcomings too with the attack failing to fire and the concession of another goal from a set-piece evidence, it seemed, that the team is failing to learn from its mistakes.

“I think what we’re trying to do,” said O’Neill on the first issue, “is that if players have the ball wide, they need to have some options. That is something we trying to look at in the couple of days training.

“The idea was for the centre forwards or midfielders to get into that little around area edge of the area. It’s the safest part of the pitch, you can’t get followed in there, because defenders don’t want to foul.

“It was something the two centre forwards attempted to do which is pleasing. Young Hogan could have scored a goal and, though I haven’t seen it back, I’m told that the challenge on Maguire looked like a penalty kick.

“We have to try to create more, hence the two centre forwards with new players playing and some of them not having played together before we conceded from the corner. That’s two consecutive games and I hope it’s not becoming a trend because clearly these are things that can decide big games.”

The experience of playing the changed system, he said, will stand to the players even if it did not entirely click on this occasion.

“The more you do it the more comfortable you will be,” he said. “I tried to change it late on when we were looking for an equaliser with two wide players and two in central midfield. But on the whole I don’t think the players were uncomfortable with it.

“I think it’s something that over a number of days on the training ground they can get more used to it and I think we might have those days in advance of the France game. It’s something that we might look at again.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times