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Giovanni Trapattoni sends on James McClean for his eagerlyawaited
Irish debut last night

Giovanni Trapattoni sends on James McClean for his eagerlyawaited Irish debut last night

Simon Cox jumps for joy after
scoring Ireland's late equaliser
against the Czech Republic last
night

Simon Cox jumps for joy after scoring Ireland's late equaliser against the Czech Republic last night

Damien Duff is tackled by David Limberský

Damien Duff is tackled by David Limberský

Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni (right) and Assistant manager Marco Tardelli during the game last night. Photo: PA

Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni (right) and Assistant manager Marco Tardelli during the game last night. Photo: PA

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Giovanni Trapattoni sends on James McClean for his eagerlyawaited Irish debut last night

The populist cry took an age to find the ears of Giovanni Trapattoni but, when it did, it was a sound that defied resistance.

For 79 minutes, James McClean's night was confined to the idle banter of the waiting-room. He looked unperturbed. The TV cameras kept finding his smile, a big, square-jawed kid bending the ear of Seamus Coleman as the surgery door kept opening for others to stride through.

Trapattoni doesn't manage by public consensus and only with four substitutes already deployed did he finally call the kid down to a great, gusting gale of approval. In his 10-minute cameo, McClean would look bright, alert and keen not to disappoint his Dublin audience.

Briefly, the deities even toyed with the notion of a fairytale, his low cross almost producing an 89th-minute winner for Jonathan Walters and, four minutes later, Vaclav Pilar pushing his unhelpful posterior in the way of a McClean pile-driver.

Trap has sounded exasperated this week at our failure to grasp the primacy of system over gamble. We want pyrotechnics in our world, but he goes to work with pencil, ruler and eraser. Italian tools.

Maybe we under-appreciate him, maybe we miss the simple compatibilities that glue players into a team. We don't exactly swoon at our rating of 20th in the current FIFA rankings, do we? It's as if we consider the figure humdrum, unremarkable.

He looks at it and something tells him we should be placing lighted candles in front of his picture. Then he looks at us and sees arms flailing endlessly for change. It doesn't make sense to him. You can probably see why.

Our fixation with McClean these past weeks reflected a pre-occupation with the Premier League that he palpably doesn't share. McClean is exciting in much the same vein as Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady were exciting as kids. The difference is they both have had four years of schooling in Trap's university. McClean is just enrolling.

In a sense, too, the change we want is superficial. Still 4-4-2, just a different name-plate. But Trap is drawn towards the intricacies of structure, to connecting the dots of 4-4-1-1 with Robbie Keane a bridge between midfield and attack. "Pah" we sneer "give us new faces!" Worse, we declare Robbie's new role to be all but custom-made for that errant Cork child with the hair and grandparent issues.

So it's a strange kind of love we have for Trapattoni. Stranger still, the love we have for his team.

Maybe it's just a media impediment, but everything written about them is coated with a crust of disappointment. They can be robotic, unimaginative. Sometimes they look slow to warm up like an eco friendly light-bulb. Other times, they appear coursed by frenzy and impatience.

We want a firecracker to explode, but can't see beyond the drizzle in our heads.

The one, incontrovertible quality we recognise in Trap's Ireland is work. They never shirk it. You watched the efficient Czechs fizz their passes like croupiers spinning cards last night and knew, instinctively, they didn't appreciate the high energy of their hosts.

McClean will, at least, be true to that philosophy, to the gene of selflessness that declares no individual bigger than the collective.

He has been likened in running style to Gareth Bale, but seems better versed in the defensive small print written into a winger's contract. Bale is a wonderful, impulsive flier, but he wouldn't be the man to leave in charge of a hen-house. McClean, by contrast, looks blessed with the gift of absolute concentration.

Still, for now, the comparison should flatter him. He is barely into double figures of first-team appearances at Sunderland and still, you have to feel, in that giddy place where everything seems simultaneously reasonable and daft.

Last week, he invited a posse of Dublin journalists into his family home on the vast Creggan council estate in Derry to explain the depth of his desire to play for Ireland. Capped for the North at U-21 level, he regarded the experience as one designed merely to further his club career.

The Creggan is a robustly nationalist place and was, through McClean's childhood, an environment unequivocally supportive of teams playing under the tricolor.

He described his life as "a whirlwind" since December when Martin O'Neill saw him play for Sunderland reserves in the unpromising surrounds of Eppleton Colliery Welfare FC.

O'Neill was just days into his new job but, on a wretched day in the North East, saw something in the leggy red-head that has, since, had Wearside tingling.

If he's had a stumble, maybe it's in how he's chosen to recycle some of the Loyalist bile that's fallen his way from that avalanche of banality, Twitter. Time, we assume, will educate him on the opinions worth responding to. McClean's was just a bit-part in the big theatre last night, but it was enough.

By the time Milan Baros dinked a simple 50th-minute opener for the visitors, Trap had already abandoned his vision of Keane as the green Totti and re-adjusted the team to its old, dependable shape.

McClean will have noted the easy flair with which Duff and McGeady raided down the flanks and how utterly the pieces of the jigsaw fitted. He will have noted too the courage of Glenn Whelan, subjected to five minutes of painful looking dental repair on the touchline, yet resuming without a hint of inhibition or self-regard.

That's the standard we presume upon of Trap's Ireland and the one that ultimately brought them Simon Cox's 86th-minute equaliser. Romance is for the opera, Trap says.

Not last night it wasn't. Not for the Derry kid with fireworks in his shoes.

Irish Independent