There will come a time in the future when no Ireland manager will again have to wait and hope for a phone call that tells him a young player has committed his international career to the Republic or has walked away, according to incumbent boss Martin O’Neill.
The situation occurred with Jack Grealish in 2015 and with Ryan Johansen again last week – he chose Luxembourg over Ireland – and now the fear is that, almost two months after Declan Rice flagged to O’Neill that he was having second thoughts about playing for Ireland, the West Ham starlet will declare that he wishes to play for England, the land of his birth.
However, O’Neill is looking forward to a time when the talent that a senior Ireland manager can call on will hail from Galway or Wexford, or Dublin or Cork.
“I was speaking to our young managers only the other day, the lads leading the under 17s and 19s, you wouldn’t believe how enthusiastic those lads are, how talented those young lads are. You wouldn’t believe it,” O’Neill said.
“The players want to play for their country. These things here coming up [with players declaring or not declaring for Ireland], it won’t be in my time but you will see a spell here where we will have proper Premier League players playing for us.
“It won’t be in my time, it probably might not even be in the next manager’s time, but they will come through and we have something good in place now.
“There is enthusiasm and the drive and the determination to put it right, at least there is some sort of structure here.
“If I find out on my travels that there is something we can look at, say in Spain, that makes it better for us we might try and implement that and put it in there but, at this minute, we have a structure here that I think will honestly come to fruition and young lads will be able to take great pride in a side qualifying, to be able to compete, to know that you can compete and it’s not a struggle every single week.”
It is not just the players coming through the system that will reflect the talent this country has to offer on the international stage, says O’Neill, as the Derry native firmly believes that our coaches and managers are best positioned to nurture the playing prowess of the country’s future stars.
“There are managers in place here who are determined to put it right and I have got a lot of time for them, just listening to them they want to do it right,” he explained.
“There were a couple of issues with the under 17s before their Euro qualifying competition started and the young manager dealt with them and he dealt with them brilliantly.
“In his own manner, I got to hear about them and I thought, ‘Well done, really good’. I’m hoping that this talent, on and off the pitch, will come through.”
It is O’Neill’s hope that the aforementioned underage structures and the mix of the playing and coaching talent will mean that his successors won’t encounter the same issues as those posed by Rice and Grealish.
“That should be the goal, absolutely, we should be able to pick players from this country.
“Absolutely. And not have to rely on certain rulings or grandparents’ rule. At this minute, that is what we are trying to do,” he said.
It’s a strong message from O’Neill that reflects two sets of frustrations. One, his own, that a player to whom he awarded three caps this year to bed him into the international set-up, is on the verge of walking away.
The second is the frustration of the supporters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that their beloved Irish team shirt is being treated as a bargaining chip by players, and perhaps agents, at club level.
The issue arises just a week before Ireland play Denmark and Wales in two vital home Nations League group games and Rice is one of six players who may have started the game in different circumstances.
Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ward, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady and Jon Walters, with Rice, would conceivably have made up half of O’Neill’s side to face Denmark.
“It is going to be a difficult task, but it is what it is. If you haven’t got your major players with you, then it is a tough task. It’s a tough task even with those players available, but that is the challenge now and there is nothing anyone can do about it,” continued Irish manager.
“Yes, you might curse your luck for about ten minutes, but then you get on with it and that’s what we have to do.
“I don’t think I have to motivate those players who will play in these games, they are motivated to play for Ireland and to take their chance, regardless of ability, they all want to play for us, they want to play well for Ireland. That’s never been a problem.”