Saturday 25 February 2017

Mature McClean ready to step up and inspire Ireland

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

James McClean: ‘I feel that I’m an all-round better player now’
James McClean: ‘I feel that I’m an all-round better player now’

On the pitch, James McClean remains just as hungry and as driven for success as the 22-year-old who burst onto the Premier League scene.

Off it, he has a more candid approach, but that doesn't stop the Derry-native having full belief that he is now "an all-round better player".

McClean came off the bench in Ireland's last European qualifier against Poland and his bone-crunching tackle on Arkadiusz Milik is largely what inspired the home crowd and eventually his team-mates as they salvaged a point late on.

The winger is hoping to have a similar impact from the start against Scotland tomorrow but he is remaining controlled in his approach.

"I was very raw back then, but that comes with playing with no fear," he says of his breakthrough with Sunderland.

"For one reason or another things kind of went sour a bit. But I feel that I'm an all-round better player now and I'm looking forward to the game, putting my case forward and doing well.

"I learned a lot about myself as a person and things like intelligence on the pitch. I was just doing things off the cuff before and now maybe I've a better understanding around the pitch and a better understanding of my team-mates and positions I should be in.

"Obviously your manager gives you feedback and what he wants. You sit back and think, 'okay'. You look at it and think, 'he's right there'.

"But I'm getting older as well and I'm playing a lot more games. I've a lot more experience. You pick up things. That's basically what it is.

"I think I've matured as a player. Hopefully I can put the past behind me and look forward to showing that I'm a better player."

McClean's performance from the bench against Poland would suggest that he is in line for a recall and with Robbie Brady seemingly finding a new role at left back, the competition for places has lessened somewhat.

Like several of his team-mates, including Brady, McClean is desperate to put a poor domestic season behind him.

Wigan finished second from bottom of the Championship table and will play their football in League One next season - although McClean has made it clear that he is unsure if he will also be playing in England's third tier come August.

The 26-year-old remained coy when quizzed on his future as he looks to stay fully focused on tomorrow's task.

"It's never nice being on the bench. Obviously it's a team game but if you ask everyone in the squad would they want to be on the bench or starting the game, there is only one answer," he insists.

"Look, you don't know what the manager is thinking but hopefully I've done enough to get into the starting line-up, that's where you want to be.

"You want to make an impact regardless. You've a job and that's trying to get to the Euros and as a player, you look back on your career and times like that don't come around too often. So from an individual point, you want to get in the team."

Scottish players and officials have insisted all week that the pressure will be on Ireland tomorrow, but McClean refutes those claims.

He does however, agree that Ireland are long overdue a big home performance but at the same time, he will gladly take all three points by any means necessary.

"They're (Scotland) probably trying to get in our heads a bit - trying to get the edge," McClean maintains.

"If they lose the game then we go ahead of them so there is pressure on both teams.

"The main thing is getting the result, whether it's boring to watch or scrappy or whatever, the main thing is getting the result. But if we can put in a performance and win the game as well, it's a double bonus.

"If it takes a scrappy game and an OG in the last minute, whatever, as long as we get the three points, I don't really care how we get it."

McClean may have developed a mature outlook but his insatiable desire to prove himself at the highest level is exactly the kind of thing that can inspire Ireland tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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