Euro 2012: Fearless McClean has the ability to make massive impact -- Kevin Sheedy
FORMER Ireland and Everton winger Kevin Sheedy believes James McClean can be a star at Euro 2012.
Sheedy, now 52, works as a youth team coach at the Goodison Park club's Finch Farm training complex and has seen enough of the Derry youngster to be convinced of his talent.
"We played Sunderland twice in the FA Cup, as well as in the league this season. So, I got a good look at him," the man who earned 47 Ireland caps said.
"He certainly caught the eye and I enjoyed watching him. He's clearly very talented and possesses a great left foot. I like the fact he seems to play with no fear. He's just burst on to the scene since around Christmas time."
McClean's displays have impressed many, with plenty of people citing his form as one of the reasons why The Black Cats jumped up the table in the second half of 2011/2012.
Under Steve Bruce, the opportunity to play first-team football never came the way of the former Derry City player. Then Martin O'Neill's arrival led to a major change in fortunes for the youngster.
"James is proof that having the right manager brings the best out of a player," Sheedy said. "I always found that in my career. I didn't enjoy playing under Eoin Hand with Ireland, but did enjoy playing under Jack Charlton.
"Martin arrived and spotted something (in James). A player will perform for a manager who believes in him. Martin has given him the confidence to play well and that has pushed him in to the international reckoning."
Whether or not Giovanni Trapattoni would include McClean in his squad for the summer was a cause of some debate. Prior to naming the 23 who would travel to eastern Europe, the Italian said his chances of being involved were "90-99pc."
For Sheedy, there was no doubt about the decision. "I think he was always certain to go because of what he can do. Whether he's starting, or coming off the bench, he can have a big impact on a game," he said.
"If he plays there's no reason why he can't help the team to win. You need different types of players for a tournament and he certainly gives Ireland something different. He could do very well."
Sheedy was a member of the first Ireland squad to ever reach the European Championships back in 1988. They ventured to Germany without any fear, it was more a sense of excitement regarding what was about to happen.
"Everything was brand new to all of us. Ireland had never played at a major tournament before, so we didn't know what to expect. That will be the same for quite a few of the lads who are there this summer.
"Initially, there wasn't any pressure on us. We knew other teams wouldn't see us as a threat because we were new to the whole scene. Then the press started building up the game with England. By the time it came around, there was a lot of expectation."
Ray Houghton's winner against Bobby Robson's typically much-hyped side shocked most, led to wild parties back home and even prompted Christy Moore to write a song. If Ireland are to progress past the group stages in Poland and Ukraine, Sheedy feels the same result in our opening fixture is required.
"For me, Croatia is the biggest game. I think we can win it. As we proved in 1988, if you win your first game the pressure is then on the other teams.
"You usually go into the opening fixture aiming not to lose. A draw would be a decent result. But a win would give us a really good chance of going through. Of course, the opposite applies too. If we were to lose to Croatia that would make life very difficult.
"I know most people will be looking at it and thinking Ireland can't get through. But we have a good chance.
"Spain and Italy are impressive teams. They're not unbeatable, though, particularly the Italians. They have a habit of losing unexpectedly at big competitions, as we proved in 1994.
"I'm very confident that we'll put in some good performances, we always do. Hopefully, they'll be good enough to qualify."
If Ireland are to make it to the last 16 we'll obviously have to score goals. Should one of Trapattoni's players produce a winner against Croatia, Spain or Italy, their achievements are sure to be celebrated as much as the memorable efforts of Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Robbie Keane or Sheedy on the big stage.
On a stormy night in Cagliari's Stadio Sant'Elia in 1990 the left-footed Everton player stole the ball from Steve McMahon and lashed a low shot past Peter Shilton, to cancel out Gary Lineker's messy opener.
The man who hails from Builth Wells in mid-Wales, but qualified for Ireland through his dad, only later realised the significance of what he'd done.
"At the time I didn't think about it. When a game finishes in a big competition your mind immediately turns to the next one.
"We had Egypt a few days later and were all thinking about that.
"When the ball went in (against England), it was a great personal moment. The final whistle goes, you get changed and then you get on the bus. You might think about the goal for a little bit of time, but you quickly move on.
"It was more after I retired from playing that I thought about the goal or people seemed to mention it. It's great to hear.
"Looking back now it was a piece of history, Ireland's first ever World Cup goal.
"That's something I'm extremely proud of.
"It would be great if somebody else did something similar in a few weeks."