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McClean calls out critics

Stoke star's stout defence of Kenny from Hunt shows boss will have his backers


WAY BACK: James McClean during his days with Derry City when Stephen Kenny was his boss. Photo: Sportsfile

WAY BACK: James McClean during his days with Derry City when Stephen Kenny was his boss. Photo: Sportsfile

WAY BACK: James McClean during his days with Derry City when Stephen Kenny was his boss. Photo: Sportsfile

Any suggestion that the volleys of opinion about Stephen Kenny's suitability to manage the senior Ireland team would all be one-sided has been knocked on its head by James McClean.

And the Stoke City winger has made it very clear that that, to his ears, comments which doubted Kenny's ability to do the job are groundless.

Comments, in particular, from Gary Breen and McClean's former-team-mate Stephen Hunt whose views, or rather an interpretation of those views, have angered McClean.

Kenny has been in management for 22 years, has won trophies and had European success, has been sacked almost as often as he's been hired so he knows the score and probably doesn't need someone like McClean to go out and bat for him.

But it's happened.

"Stephen (Hunt) is probably best known for his clash with Petr Cech, so for him to give his opinion on Stephen is a joke," McClean said in an interview with the Derry Journal.

"I have seen people like Stephen Hunt saying senior players are going to be worried and this and that, but Stephen Hunt's international career didn't really pull up many trees," McClean added.

"I have seen a few comments from Gary Breen. I think Gary has spent too much time in England.

"I'm pretty sure Gary doesn't know much about the League of Ireland. The fact he said Stephen has failed everywhere other than Dundalk proves that point."

Hunt is not shy about expressing an opinion and may feel the need to respond to McClean so football fans, starved of real action on the field, may get to witness another kind of match, a public back and forth between Hunt and McClean.

Hunt's actual comments on Kenny were not as negative as McClean has made out. Hunt pointed out to a UK audience on Sky that, while Kenny lacked top-level managerial experience, he had watched Kenny's U-21 side and was impressed.

Luckily, McClean has taken himself off social media, otherwise a Hunt/McClean face-off could be the mother of all Twitter battles.

Neither McClean nor Hunt have a particularly long list of medals. Both have been through multiple relegations at club level and their Premier League records are similar (Hunt winning the stats war as he scored 21 goals in 143 Premier League games, McClean with 11 goals in 158 Premier League outings).

When Kenny was first lined up as senior manager, the support of players from the League of Ireland like McClean and Seamus Coleman was seen as crucial to winning over any doubters in the dressing room.

Hunt, on the outside as a retired player, had doubts as far back as 2018.

"He (Kenny) has a brilliant record in Ireland, but I have to ask why he has never managed in England, and others might too," he said.

Speaking to Sky this week, Hunt said he was disappointed to see his former club manager McCarthy go but added "everyone wants to see Stephen Kenny do well".

So McClean's defence of Kenny was probably uncecessary. What Hunt said and what McClean thought he had said did not match up. Still, McClean was drawing a line in the sand to say that the new manager would have his backing and that of other squad members.

The Derry-born player and the former Derry City manager go back a long way, back to a time when the club were a mere second-tier side, demoted in 2009 for financial misdeeds.

Kenny was Derry manager when City sold McClean to Sunderland in 2011 and even though they've not worked together since, they have retained a bond, even sharing the same agency as their representatives.

McClean's international career has seen him play in attack or defence and this week it's clear that when it comes to Stephen Kenny, McClean is willing to defend his former boss to the hilt and attack anyone who disagrees.