Tuesday 21 May 2019

Energy and passion lands starring role

Weird Wide World of Sport

James McClean celebrates Ireland's win over Austria in Vienna
James McClean celebrates Ireland's win over Austria in Vienna

David Devereux

When I watch James McClean haring down the wing on a football field I'm reminded of Bruce Willis with perspiration glistening on his brow in his most famous role.

Like the Derry man's near namesake, John McClane, in the Die Hard franchise, Saturday evening's match-winner seems to revel when the odds are stacked against him and he will never go down without an almighty fight.

If you had the inclination to weave a wondrous tale for the silver screen about McClean's impact for the Boys in Green, 'Try Hard' could well be the appropriate working title.

The West Bromwich Albion player is far from the most talented footballer to come from these shores and is more Holywood in County Down than its more illustrious Los Angeles cousin with an extra 'L', but what he lacks in natural ability he more than makes up for in raw energy and passion.

If every player that pulled on their country's shirt had the same pride in the badge as McClean, international football wouldn't be wallowing in the mire that it finds itself at the present.

Thankfully, McClean has a decent support cast, certainly in terms of effort, in the Irish squad and in Seamus Coleman we have a captain who leads by example and sets the tone for the rest of the team.

Our long overdue triumph in Vienna was far from pleasing to the eye for the neutral, but being pretty doesn't win you matches, and topping the table with ten points from four games, with tough away trips to Serbia and Austria out of the way, is a nice place to be at the year's end.

Things didn't begin too promisingly on Saturday, despite the positivity surrounding the inclusion of Wes Hoolihan and Harry Arter from the start, with the Austrians coming at us from more angles than a dodecagon.

However, they ran out of steam quicker than a dodgy, spluttering iron and by the time Glenn Whelan hobbled off at the midway point of the first-half it was clear that the opposition were there for the taking.

Many observers would have seen Whelan's early departure as a blessing in disguise, and in fairness his replacement, David Meyler, did extremely well after entering the fray and played a big part in the winning goal.

The opening 45 minutes was about as average as you're going to get, and although Austria has produced cracking composers like Beethoven and Strauss there was no creativity to be seen and they were as headless as their ill-fated famous export Marie Antoinette as they struggled to pick out a telling pass.

The match was as scrappy as a breaker's yard, with Austrian players falling over easier than bowling pins in a breezy alley, and the referee didn't help matters with his whistle-happy approach making the game more stop-start than rush hour traffic.

The hosts were as ragged as a barbed-wire fence fitter's overcoat with star man Alaba having a complete nightmare, although we did have a let-off in the 39th minute when Sabitzer hit the woodwork after a rare touch of class from Arnautovic.

Ireland came close to making their mark on a forgettable half when Walters slid in and fired over the top, and although Ireland had been far from impressive themselves there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic at the break.

That bright outlook looked well founded when McClean buried the ball through the goalkeeper's legs and into the back of the net early in the second-half, and fans could have been shouting 'Zimmer for Wimmer' considering how easily the Spurs defender took a tumble when dispossessed by David Meyler in the build-up to the goal.

Thankfully, Meyler ignored the histrionics and picked out Hoolihan, who in turn sprayed the perfect pass out to McClean, and he did the rest.

Given our history of heartache against the Austrians it was too early to be counting chickens but the hosts could only huff and puff, and despite one late heart-stopping moment when Janko headed wide it was pretty comfortable on the whole.

There's no doubting who the hero was on the night, and with three goals in two games for the Irish, blockbuster McClean has quickly become our leading man and deserves all the plaudits that come his way.

As the final credits roll on 2016, we're definitely in a good position to book our place in the World Cup in Russia particularly if, like insatiable winger McClean, his team-mates continue to 'Try Hard 2'.

New Ross Standard