O'Neill slams 'crazy' view of missed Rice opportunity

Martin O’Neill has dismissed the suggestion that he should have capped Declan Rice in the World Cup qualifier with Moldova 13 months ago in order to tie him to Ireland.

O’Neill is still waiting for an answer on Rice’s international future after Gareth Southgate’s summer intervention led the West Ham teen to step away from the Irish scene after winning three senior caps.

He made his debut in Turkey in March, but the Ireland boss was surprised to learn that he had been criticised by some for not throwing Rice into the competitive Dublin win over a lowly-ranked Moldova side.

The 66-year-old feels that would have set a dangerous precedent and believes there is no guarantee that Rice would have accepted the chance.

At that point in time, the teenager had made five league appearances for West Ham with three as sub.

“The Moldova game at home? Where we were desperate to win the game? It’s kind of crazy,” said O’Neill.

“You have to merit getting into the side. I have no qualms on that. You are trying to win football matches. If you want to pick up on that… I will end up capping 15-year-olds just so they will play for Ireland for the next 15 years.

“That had not entered my head at the time. If those are my thoughts going into competitive matches… that I should be thinking of capping someone for further down the line. You shouldn’t be doing that.

“I wouldn’t have just sneaked him onto the pitch because he would have been aware of it. He might have thought: ‘By the way, I don’t want to be included here at all because it might affect me’. I think Declan must have had these thoughts (switch to England) in his head for some time.”

However, O’Neill did admit that interest in Jimmy Dunne (Northern Ireland) and Michael Obafemi (Nigeria/England) was a factor in naming them in his provisional squad for the friendly with the North and the Nations League tie in Denmark.

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