Rice – I’m loving Ireland experience

Declan Rice

It has been a whirlwind few days for West Ham United youngster Declan Rice.

Fresh from making his Premier League debut as a late substitute in Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Burnley, the 18-year-old defender received a phone call from Martin O’Neill inviting him to Ireland’s training camp ahead of their June fixtures against Mexico, Uruguay and Austria.

Fast forward to Thursday and Rice was lining up on the training pitch alongside the likes of experienced internationals Wes Hoolahan, Richard Keogh and Daryl Murphy at the Boys In Green’s camp at Fota Island near Cork.

The Academy starlet admits he is struggling to take it all in but is making the most of the opportunity handed to him.

He explained: “It was a dream come true, firstly to make my Premier League debut on Sunday – it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid – so to then get the call from Martin [O’Neill] to say I’m going to come in for three days and train is a great experience.

“I couldn’t believe it when the call came, I was with my dad and he couldn’t believe it either. My family are so proud.”

Rice’s progress has been rapid, from picking up the FAI Under-17 International Player of the Year award, starring as the Under-19s reached the Elite Round of qualifiers for the UEFA U19 Championship, captaining the Hammers’ Premier League 2 side to promotion, and being named the Young Hammer of the Year – all since March.

He added: “It started off with the Under-17s, going really well, and to be honest last year I didn’t think it would have gone this well to get the call to come in [and train with the seniors].

I’ve really enjoyed training with the senior team. The sessions have been really good and the lads have taken to me

Declan Rice

“After I got back from the Under-19s qualifiers earlier this year, Slaven Bilic pulled me as he was coming out of a press conference and just said to me he had people out there watching and that I’d done really well.

“I was shocked to be honest, as I didn’t know [he’d be watching], but you’ve always got to play well when you put the Irish shirt on because you know there’s people who want to take that jersey off you.

“I’ve really enjoyed training with the senior team. The sessions have been really good and the lads have taken to me.

“Darren Randolph said to me to be my own self and train like I do at West Ham and I’d be fine. He said the lads would talk to me and make me feel welcome.”