Rice relishing breakthrough week

Following his U21 debut Declan Rice is relishing the chance to play for Ireland U17
Sixteen-year-old Academy of Football star Declan Rice spoke of his delight at being called up to the Republic of Ireland U17 squad ahead of their double header with Hungary this week.

The Green Army are in action later today, and the centre-back, who can also play in midfield, has enjoyed a week to remember as he made his debut for the U21s at the Emirates on Friday 28 August.

Speaking after the game against the Gunners, a delighted Rice said: “To make my U21 debut is a special moment in my career. I was a bit nervous when I came on; thankfully my first few touches came quite quickly so I could settle into the game. After that I thought I did well and hopefully impressed Terry and the other coaches.

“Despite the result it was a great experience, especially at the Emirates. I just tried to enjoy the occasion. I’ve played here before at U15 level, I was a small kid then! This pitch is just so big that keeping the ball is vital, they did that better than us.”

Following his debut, Rice could now face European opponents Hungary in Budapest today, with the second game of the double header on Thursday 3 September.

For Rice, the journey is especially poignant as his Irish-born grandparents recently passed away.

“My Nan and Granddad sadly passed away a few months ago so it’s a very proud moment for my family. I really want to do well for my Grandparents because they are my connection to Ireland.
“Representing my country is a massive honour, so I am really happy with the call up.

“I’ve played in an International tournament in Dublin earlier in the year which we won, so I can’t wait to meet up with the lads again.”

Having made his U21 bow, Rice is now fully focused on progressing as much as possible. Still only 16, he has broken into the U18 side with apparent ease.

Rice is just one of a number of youngsters set to represent their countries at different age groups. Alongside the Irishman, Vashon Neufville, Sam Howes and Reece Burke will represent England at different youth groups while Josh Cullen has been drafted into the Irish U21 side.

In a widely positive time for the Academy of Football the midfielder-come-defender is clearly enjoying his football.

“We were doing targets for the season earlier this week and I said hopefully I’d like to come on three times for the U21 this season. I’ve made my debut earlier than I expected so I’m delighted with that and hopefully I can get a few a more now. 

“For the U18s I’ve been playing mainly at the centre-back but tonight I came on in midfield. I don’t mind where I play as long as I start; I just want to enjoy my football.

“I like to think I read the game very well, I’m a good passer, I’m pretty vocal out on the pitch and I like to get my point across.”