Josh Cullen wants a cap to end any Declan Rice talk
Hackney-born player potentially in position to fill spot McCarthy may have earmarked for Rice
Josh Cullen at a Republic of Ireland press conference at the FAI National Training Centre, Dublin. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Having been called up to the senior set-up for the first time, Josh Cullen is hoping that a cap in at least one of this week’s European qualifiers will end any lingering doubts about his Ireland future.
The 22-year-old West Ham midfielder is well aware that people will be watching in the wake of Declan Rice’s defection. However, he insists there should be no doubts about his intentions.
“Everyone is different,” says Cullen, when asked about Rice, who he shared club digs with at one stage. “Obviously Dec had that in his mind, that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He’s made the decision now, and now we wish him all the best; hopefully he goes on and has a successful career.
“But for me, I’m totally focused on playing for Ireland, and hopefully all the talk will be squashed when I make an appearance. Hopefully that’s in this break because then it will be done and dusted.”
The pair remain friends and have been in touch to offer each other congratulations on their respective call-ups, but having caught the eye of manager Mick McCarthy, the Hackney-born player is potentially in a position to fill the very spot that McCarthy might well have originally earmarked for Rice in his starting line-up.
“I’ve played at the bottom of the diamond and to the right of the diamond at Charlton [where he is currently on a season-long loan]. I feel that I can play both comfortably. I like getting on the ball, getting around the pitch, breaking the play up, and keep things ticking over. I just want to dominate the game and run it from the middle of the pitch.”
McCarthy, who says he was particularly impressed by him when he went along to see him play against Burton, would happily take a bit of any of that if it is going.
Cullen, though, might still have to wait a while. His season has been disrupted by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a couple of months, and McCarthy has more obvious options in what is a key area of the pitch.
Yet the 22-year-old who qualifies through paternal grandparents who came from Leitrim and Cavan, says he is happy to edge even a little closer to what he says are his long-term goals: regular game-time for West Ham and Ireland.
“As it stands at the minute I’m on loan from West Ham at Charlton until the end of the season, and I’m returning to West Ham then. I’ve still got a year left on my contract. I’ve always said the focus is to get into West Ham’s first team and to play for the club. It’s a loan deal and it’s been great at Charlton, I’ve enjoyed my time, but I’ll go back at the end of the season and see where we go from there.”
In the meantime, he says he is learning a great deal at a club managed by Lee Bowyer, a former West Ham midfielder who possessed a few of the attributes as a player that Cullen would like to develop as he grows into his own game.
As for Ireland, the late call-up came as a surprise, but a very pleasant one. “The first I knew was on the Friday. Lee Bowyer asked me if I had heard the good news and I said ‘no, I hadn’t heard anything yet’. Later in the day I got the call to say that I was called in, so I was delighted.
“It means everything. As a young lad growing up you want to represent your country at the top level in the senior game. It’s fantastic. To have captained the under-21s and to have played quite a few times for the under-21s was obviously a great feeling. I was so proud to be able to do that, but to get the first senior call-up and to get that feeling when I was coming in was top of the lot, really. I’m over the moon, and really proud to be here.
“Now I’m here, and I want to play. Whatever is going on outside, I just want to play football. If I can play a part in these next two games then I’ll be over the moon. I’ll be delighted with that.”