Declan Rice won the praise of both Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and captain Seamus Coleman after making his senior debut in a friendly defeat to Turkey.
The West Ham teenager delivered a man of the match performance despite his team going down by the only goal in Antalya.
Rice had been coveted by England boss Gareth Southgate but the London-born defender had few problems in committing to Ireland.
He admitted after the game in Turkey that he had a tear in his eye during the national anthem, with his father in the stand and memories of his grandparents in Cork in his mind.
It wasn’t a great night for manager O’Neill as he looks to start rebuilding following a humbling World Cup playoff loss to Denmark in November, but 19-year-old Rice was the undoubted plus point.
“He’s played left-sided centre-half for West Ham, his club, and at this minute I think he’s getting accustomed to a number of positions,” said the Ireland boss.
“I had no hesitation in putting him into the middle of the field. It was a man-of-the-match performance and I thought he was excellent for us.
“Considering it’s his debut and he’s 19 years of age, it was an impressive performance from an impressive young man.”
Coleman too was left impressed. The Everton full-back was making his first Irish appearance since breaking his leg against Wales in Dublin over a year ago. He felt the youngster was leading by example in his first taste of international football.
“We’re disappointed to have lost but I thought Declan was brilliant,” said Coleman.
“He wasn’t just brilliant today, he’s been brilliant all week in training. “He’s a great lad, desperate to do well and a few of us could have taken a leaf out of his book.”
West Ham are 2.88 to beat Southampton next weekend at the London Stadium. The struggling Saints are 2.60 while the draw is 3.20.