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Declan Rice Offers Hope As Ireland Show Little Growth Since Denmark

Declan Rice Offers Hope As Ireland Show Little Growth Since Denmark
By Arthur James O'Dea

Amid the general urgency to get Declan Rice his first international appearance, what may have been overlooked was how likely he was to enjoy the experience.

An initial cap that does not tie the West Ham United man down to Ireland indefinitely, friendly appearances allow for the possibility of switching allegiance further down the line.

While the 19-year-old looked perfectly at ease as the left-sided centre-back of a trio featuring Kevin Long and Shane Duffy, his willingness to embrace Ireland's theoretical 3-5-2 formation stood at odds with those around him.

Comfortable on the ball, in possession of a deft touch, Rice looks every part the modern Premier League defender. With the more industrious - but no less effective - Duffy beside him, O'Neill's likely return to a 4-4-2 would make for an interesting partnership between the two.

Yet, after this evening's game had reached the half-way point, queries regarding O'Neill's experimental approach forced the question; how experimental was it?

A 3-5-2 that positioned Seamus Coleman and James McClean as the nominal right and left wing-backs respectively, in practice, Ireland were reduced to a 5-3-2; propelling long balls without even the slim consolation of a towering Daryl Murphy-esque figure to try and make a connection.

Although many things to many people, McClean particularly demonstrated his limitations as a full-back. On countless occasions, his determination to 'get rid' afforded his side a brief reprieve from chasing Turkish shadows often deep within Ireland's own half.

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Which brings things back to Declan Rice.

Traditionally speaking, the 3-5-2 approach would tend to harness the ball-playing ability of your centre-halves. Partially a bulwark against the opposition's attack, it also affords you the luxury of a passing out from the back.

Again, in theory anyway, the goalkeeper will have an additional option when taking a kick-out. It was an option Colin Doyle scarcely explored tonight.

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Be that down to his own preference, or dictated from above, it exposed the reality of O'Neill's plan tonight; this '3-5-2' will not signal a new, slightly more possession-based Irish approach. It is a definite 5-3-2, the like of which one can imagine the manager employing at the risk of another 'playoff' debacle.

With 20 minutes remaining, Rice made the move into midfield. Once again, it appeared no great task for him. Named man-of-the-match by Ronnie Whelan, he looked a man well beyond his years.

Although his comments regarding the nation he wishes to represent bodes well for Martin O'Neill and Ireland, tonight's performance demonstrates that he is capable of setting a standard Ireland are in desperate need of reaching.

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If we have the good-fortune of seeing him line out against Wales in what would be his first competitive appearance in September, not only his teammates, but O'Neill himself, must have the courage to back him and see where it takes us.

See Also: Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic Takes The 'Announcement' Video Up A Notch

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