Daniel McDonnell: 'There can be no sympathy for Ireland in Declan Rice debacle'

“Declan rang me today and said he has decided to give it a go with England. Good luck to him,” he said.

There’s no doubt that McCarthy will spend a fair portion of his next press conference discussing the defection.

And then he will be asked for an update on the pursuit England senior international Nathan Redmond.

Or Patrick Bamford, the Leeds striker, who spoke in 2017 about how he was resisting efforts from the mother’s side of the family to go with Ireland. “I think I am English and we will see what happens,” he said “I’d love to be called up for England.”

Perhaps McCarthy will be pressed to confirm if the paperwork is through for Will Keane, the Ipswich attacker who turned down all calls from the FAI in his teens while his twin brother Michael came over to check out the set-up – but ultimately turned out to be the better player.

Funny old game, eh. To be fair, a later statement from the FAI included extended McCarthy quotes that were a bit more nuanced. “We have availed of the ruling ourselves so we can’t complain about it,” he said.

The FAI’s counterparts in Belfast will probably have enjoyed a chuckle or two today.

Tuesday’s premature announcement of an all-Ireland competition isn’t the first time that southern decision-makers have caused a storm on the other side of the border without informing all the relevant northern parties first. Player recruitment is all about working the back channels. And this is the thing about the Declan Rice saga. There’s any number of theories that can be spouted to prove an argument.

Blame FIFA and their flexible rules. Blame O’Neill and Keane, and the doom and gloom of 2018. Blame the FAI and their banterful birthday messages. Blame England, their waistcoat-wearing manager and their transformation from international football’s most miserable dressing room into an all-singing, all-dancing, dart-throwing paradise.

All those options are available. What’s certain is that there’s no moral high ground in international football anymore. There can be no sympathy for any Irish sob story when you so actively play the same game.

What’s changed in recent years is that the English FA have really started to get stuck into it too at underage level. Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s gripe with the FAI is that they have gone after players who they might not necessarily need. England could be accused of that too.

Indeed, while Rice looks to be an exceptional talent, there has been chatter that staff in the English set-up feel there might be better players coming down the tracks. Time will tell.

There is a school of thought that Rice should be commended for ultimately following his heart and that’s understandable, yet it doesn’t really exonerate him from criticism either – much as his exit statement was well-written and hit on all the right bases. Unfortunately, his legacy will be public suspicion about every single English-born Irish player who comes into the FAI’s set-up.

That will be unfair on somebody along the line, because the diaspora will always spawn people like Kevin Kilbane and Gary Breen who only ever thought about playing for Ireland.

If there’s a next generation version of those lads,  then it doesn’t matter what they scream from the rooftops. Rice learned the anthem, teared up after his debut,  kissed the badge, described speculation about his future as ‘crap’ and he still jumped ship.

He went all in.

Footballers can be arch pragmatists and it would be a stretch to suggest that the Irish dressing room will be fuming at his departure. Some will feel strongly about it; others from his neck of his woods might privately admit they would have done the same if given the chance. Jack Grealish remained on good terms with quite a few of his old colleagues.

Seamus Coleman said publicly that he did not feel that Rice was being insincere when he embraced his father and spoke about what his debut in Turkey meant to him.

There were members of the Irish squad who were absolutely convinced that Rice would stay put. Indeed, before Christmas, it would appear that FAI officials were confident and were happy to discuss this in meetings; this set the wheels of gossip in motion and led to a series of stories which suggested that the Riceometer was swinging towards green.

Before his departure from the post, Martin O’Neill had started to believe that Rice might stick around too. In October, he reckoned the writing was on the wall. O’Neill has been blamed in some quarters for not capping Rice in the World Cup qualifier with Moldova a year previously but that argument is flawed on a number of levels.

It might have accelerated the eventual decision, because the motivation would have been so blindingly transparent that it might have prompted the ‘proud Englishman’ – as per his statement – to wonder what it was all about.

He did change agent last summer, and a couple of pundits with connections to that camp were particularly strong on pushing for Rice to switch allegiance, but if we are to buy that the 20-year-old is ‘mature’ enough to come up with such an eloquent farewell himself then we have to also believe that he has the strength of character to make his own decisions and would not have been railroaded into a snap verdict.

It’s all in the past tense now, with the tricolour next to his name erased from the records. He will be missed, and the backlash is predictable. Preaching about it underestimates the passions that sport can generate. Wishing him luck is a matter of personal preference, but to avoid these situations in future then luck is something that Irish football needs to stop relying on in the area of player development.

If you produce your own top-class talent, they won’t slip through the net.

Online Editors