Martin O’Neill has named Southampton rookie Michael Obafemi in his squad for the November double header with Northern Ireland and Denmark.
The 18-year-old was born in Dublin to Nigerian parents and left for England as a child. He has represented Ireland at underage level but there have been indications that he would be open to a switch to Nigeria, while the English FA have also shown interest in the striker who came off the bench against Manchester City over the weekend.
O’Neill has also handed first calls to Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Rotherham’s Ryan Manning and Hearts defender Jimmy Dunne – the latter has been linked with a switch to Northern Ireland.
They are part of a 36-man panel that is likely to be cut ahead of next week’s gathering.
As expected, there is no place for Declan Rice with his international future undecided. Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman return from injury.
“I couldn’t have capped him any more quickly because there wasn’t that opportunity and, secondly, like everything else, it’s the player’s decision,” said O’Neill when asked about Rice.
“He would have been in the squad for our opening competitive fixture. He had played the friendly games and had done very well in the matches and, of course, it was his choice and the realisation the minute he played competitively that was it..he was well aware of that there.
“That’s why he chose not to participate which is really understandable considering when he was born.
“There’s a fair difference between showing someone stats and someone actually playing for us. He was a young kid playing in the games. He played exceptionally well.
“We couldn’t have done anymore. I think everything possible has been done. We’ve played him in matches. He has yet to play for England. There seems to be a lot of comparisons drawn with him and young Grealish.
“Jack Grealish was born in England and so was his father and he chose to play for England. And that was entirely his choice. Whether he’s made the right choice or not, only time will tell. In the case with young Declan, he has played senior football for us, albeit friendly games, maybe there might be a change of ruling, a totally different subject. Showing someone stats if that’s the case and actually playing, that’s totally different things.”
O’Neill reiterated that the decision is firmly with the player and he will respect whatever road he takes.
“These issues are far from cut and dry and I’m well aware of it. Until someone decides this is it. Not only has he got what I call soulful decisions but he also has to consider other decisions, he has to consider, well, the idea of maybe performing for England, you would accept it’s more difficult to play for England, but the enhancements that go along with that, a lot of them have to be considered in this day and age.
A report from England last week suggested Rice has already made up his mind to play for England but O’Neill stated he is in regular contact with the family and says stories have broken “without foundation”.
“That may well be the case, I don’t know. I’m in contact with the family and they said they would let us know.
“There was a story last week and a couple of weeks before that. There was a story broken that was without foundation. The player will have the decision.
“I’m not waiting every single moment. I would hope that he would come and play for us, that would be great, for the next 10 or 12 years for him, but he’s got things to consider and whatever decision he comes up with..I will abide with.”
James McClean has, once again, been subject to much talk after he was vocally abused during last weekend’s match for Stoke against Middlesborough for not wearing a poppy.
It’s a subject O’Neill was keen to steer clear of.
“I’m here to discuss the squad and James, James always becomes the focus of attention around this particular month. I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. I’m not eager to comment on that.”
Republic of Ireland Provisional Squad
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough), Colin Doyle (Hearts), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Sean McDermott (Kristiansund BK)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United), Kevin Long (Burnley), Jimmy Dunne (Hearts*), John Egan, Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers), Greg Cunningham (Cardiff City)
Midfielders: Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Harry Arter (Cardiff City*), Conor Hourihane, Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa), David Meyler (Reading), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Shaun Williams (Millwall), Richie Towell, Ryan Manning (Rotherham United*), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), James McClean (Stoke City)
Forwards: Shane Long, Michael Obafemi (Southampton), Scott Hogan (Aston Villa), Sean Maguire, Callum Robinson (Preston North End), Aiden O’Brien (Millwall), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth)
*Indicates the player is on loan
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