Rice feeling ready for responsibility of first-choice goalkeeping duties
Martin Rice has waited a long time to establish himself as a number one goalkeeper, but with Michael Poke facing a lengthy spell on the Torquay United sidelines, Rice is determined to take his chance.
Poke has been widely regarded as the Gulls’ first-choice goalkeeper ever since he was brought in by Torquay’s former boss Martin Ling to replace Bobby Olejnik, when he signed for Peterborough United last summer.
But with Poke currently ruled out by a thigh injury which is worse than first feared, Rice has donned the gloves in his absence. He has responded with some impressive displays and now, the former Exeter City and Truro City shot-stopper is determined to keep hold of them by continuing his rich form.
“It is nice to get games as I have waited a long time,” the 27-year-old Devonian said. “The gaffer [manager Alan Knill] gave me things to do in the summer and asked me to come back fit and strong. I did that and it has paid off for me.
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“I came back as a number two to Bobby Olejnik and, when he left, I thought I’d be in with a shout of being number one. Martin Ling brought Michael Poke in as his number one and told me to fight for my place. I think I made about six appearances last year and one of those appearances was under Alan Knill.
“Obviously, I did enough to warrant a chance and I think I have taken it.”
Indeed, Rice only made his Football League debut last season due to an injury to Poke. It was one of those quirky twists of fate for Rice, who had plenty of experience of Conference football.
“That was mad, really,” he said. “Obviously I played a lot of games in the Conference for Exeter and for Torquay, but I don’t see it as much different.
“The strikers are better, but the Conference is a big league and I was never at a poor side, Exeter and Torquay were always in the top five, so it was always like League football to me.”
Rice’s career as a professional footballer appeared to be over when he was released from Plainmoor in 2009 and joined Truro.
That move proved to be of benefit to Rice, though, who blossomed by playing regular football and returned to Plainmoor more experienced and as a number two in July 2011.
“To be honest, when I left here, I thought that would be the end of the road and I would have to play part-time and I would have to build myself up again to get into the Conference,” he said. “But I had a good season with Truro, we won the league that year and I was prepared to go back there and play for them in the Conference South.
“Then, by chance, I was bored one day on the building site and asked Kenny Veysey what was happening with the second-choice ’keeper at Torquay, and he said they didn’t have one.
“I told him to tell Lingy [Ling] I was available and reminded him of my history and within a few hours, I had a phone call saying he wants me. I was on top of the world, came down and signed.”
On his time at Truro, Rice added: “It gave me experience, playing for Truro. I would never disrespect them, but we were playing against players that were overweight and they were knocking me around, so it toughened me up.”
Rice is also grateful to Veysey, the Gulls’ goalkeeping coach, for the part he has played in resurrecting his career. He said: “He helped to bring me back here and, hopefully, I am repaying him with the performances I’m putting in now.”