Wednesday 22 November 2017

Natural mentality prevents McClean from curbing enthusiasm

Republic of Ireland's James McClean. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's James McClean. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There have been moments in Ireland's Euro 2016 warm-up games where James McClean has quite literally tackled the definition of friendly.

Prior to Shane Long's introduction in the dour loss to Belarus, it was McClean's eagerness to dive full on into challenge after challenge that provided some entertainment for the Turner's Cross crowd.

It's an approach that rides a fine line with fussy match officials and Martin O'Neill once joked that even Roy Keane had warned the Derryman to tone it down on occasion.

McClean is unlikely to change his approach, however, simply because he feels it is so closely tied in with the identity that shaped his personality.

The boy from Creggan, a large housing estate in Derry that was a focal point for so much activity during the Troubles, grew up with a combative streak.

He accepts that his full-blooded approach doesn't come as easily to players who spent their formative days in calmer neighbourhoods.

"I think it's got a lot to do with where I grew up, where I was raised," says McClean, who comes into the Euros buoyed by a successful Premier League return at West Brom and the wedding which he managed to fit into the break between the end of the season and the start of French camp.

"Like many places, we had to fight for everything, but for our identity more than anything. So it comes naturally. We have that fighting mentality, we give everything.

"I was a fan growing up as well so just sitting in front of the tv watching games when you were a young boy and things weren't going well, you'd be thinking 'if I could do this or I could do that'. Well, now I am in a position where luckily enough maybe I can do something about it.

"Not everybody's raised the same. Everybody's got different backgrounds, different cultures, different ways they were raised. It's just the Creggan mentality where I'm from."

The 27-year-old enjoys the scrap. He is asked about changing his game, but feels his enjoyment of the game would change if he went about things differently.

"You can't win either way," he shrugs. "If you're pulling out of tackles then it's 'he's not pulling his weight' and then when you do go in hard, it's 'he's a liability'. But if you're going into games thinking 'I can't do this, I can't do that', where's the fun going to come from?

"I think the managers understand as well that aggression is a big part of my game. Obviously, don't be silly, but that's a given. They just try to encourage me to play my normal game. That's just what I do."

Despite ticking the 'run back and tackle when you lose the ball box', McClean didn't escape criticism from Keane during the assistant manager's withering assessment of the Belarus display.

"James brings a lot of energy," he said. "But you need more than energy and James needs to produce a bit more - more quality, a first touch, more of a goal threat."

That review wasn't widely reported as the headlines were stolen by the Corkman's assessment of what he deemed to be a complacent or inadequate approach from other starters.

McClean concurs with that criticism. "I thought his comments, to be honest, were spot on," he says.

"Not everyone can always have a good game but the bare minimum is that a player should put 110pc into his performance. You should come off the pitch, good game or bad game, saying, 'well, you know what, I gave everything'.

"So he was spot on. I can only speak for myself: I'm here, I want to play and not just be happy to be here. So I thought he was bang on with his comments."

McClean is committed to bringing Ireland as far as he can in the competition, even if that means delaying his July honeymoon.

His wife Erin is used to fitting her life around football; the narrow window to complete the nuptials before the squad gathered is a case in point.

"Our game finished on the 15th, we got married on the 20th and I had to fit a stag in there somewhere in between. I got back a day and half before the wedding so, as you can imagine, that didn't go down very well with the wife now," he smiled.

McClean doesn't drink, so it's not quite a plot line from The Hangover.

"It was a nice few days to recharge the batteries. Now, we want to be in the tournament as long as we can be. I would sacrifice a honeymoon all day long for that.

"And I'm sure my missus would understand as well. So hopefully we can postpone the honeymoon for as a long as possible.

"She'll be coming to the Euros. That was always the plan. Fair play to her, she's always understood, she knows that the football comes first and she's always supported me."

The mission is to achieve a childhood ambition - Euro 2012 didn't quite deliver in that regard.

"I remember 2002 well," he says. "Getting up early in the morning to watch Cameroon and getting the day off school to watch us beat Saudi Arabia.

"If we can recreate those memories in the weeks to come, it would be special. Hopefully someone here can be that Damien Duff or Robbie Keane."

McClean will stop at nothing in his attempt to leave a legacy.

Irish Independent

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