Wednesday 17 January 2018

McClean waiting in wings can be the driving force behind McGeady

David Kelly

David Kelly

If timing is everything in sport, James McClean's accelerated ascent to international prominence has obliged like clockwork.

Not all of the intended consequences may necessarily profit the Derryman. Not immediately, anyway.

On Saturday, Aiden McGeady was the most notable beneficiary from McClean's performance.

Individually, he thrived. Collectively, Ireland gelled, notwithstanding an opposition who expended about as much energy as Stephen Hunt in his elongated warm-up.

All the while, Giovanni Trapattoni watched with his arms crossed, not necessarily learning anything new, but confirming suspicions that will reinforce his beliefs as he returns this week, briefly, to his home country.

Whatever he didn't know about McClean, he knows now. We can presume that he didn't know as much about the youngster as he may have let on, even allowing for the fact that he only began his Premier League career in this calendar year.

It was unfortunate that when Trapattoni did deign to pitch up in person to run his particularly prickly rule over McClean, the tyro turned in arguably the least effective pair of performances -- against West Brom and Wolves -- of his 23-game lightning streak in the English game.

Unfortunate

For all that, Trapattoni's inclusion of McClean raised eyebrows, regardless of the suspicion that, were it not for the unfortunate circumstances surrounding James McCarthy, McClean might have proved an indulgence too many.

As it is, his arrival may just have sparked a more consistent strain from the prodigiously talented but notoriously unreliable McGeady.

On Saturday, McGeady produced a remarkable 45 minutes. He often produces a remarkable 45 minutes, but on too many occasions, it's when he has been expected to produce a performance for the full 90 minutes.

During the week, he "bristled" at seemingly unfair criticism, before admitting all charges. Only he, it appears, is allowed to expose his failings. Aside from Trapattoni, of course.

Winning a Man of the Match award in 45 minutes is a rare thing; not so rare the suspicion that McGeady cannot be automatically trusted to ensure that his next 45 minutes can be as effective.

Trapattoni was reportedly pleased that McGeady's focus has been renewed by the sudden threat to the established order; for all the manager's innate conservatism, he is not averse to sudden changes in personnel, if not philosophy.

For the time being, though, McClean will not displace either McGeady or Damien Duff; the 22 jersey he donned is an indication of his place in the pecking order. But his influence can still be deeply felt over the next month.

After all the hysteria surrounding his belated debut appearance from the bench, it was a surprise to many that McClean was allowed to complete the 90 minutes on Saturday.

But not to those who appreciate the manner in which Trapattoni sternly scrutinises his charges.

Trapattoni was just as keen to see how McClean started as he was eager to witness how he finished. The truth is McClean wilted visibly; after a fine opening, he ended feebly.

Trapattoni would have known this might happen; the visual evidence merely confirmed his ageless instincts. It was a cruel but necessary managerial ploy.

McClean's absorption of the lesson will hopefully not be introspective.

Basked

For there was lots to cheer as he basked in the sun for up to an hour before his fade out, ironically when McGeady's impact was at its zenith on the right wing, where McClean actually sees his long-term future.

It was on the currently more familiar left posting where he foraged more successfully as Ireland imperceptibly developed a more pleasing pattern of play than normal -- accepting the significant caveats offered by limp opponents and the fixture's friendly status.

Bosnia, at least in the first half, laid bare a certain pretence of interest and their neat passing and possession play mirrored Croatia in the Irish squad's mind eye.

Ireland, as per usual, offered little in the manner of pretence. Croatian scouts would not have required too many sheets of foolscap in their analysis.

McClean would often scurry to half-way, gesturing with his "give it," outstretched hands, only for Stephen Ward or Keiren Westwood to offer compelling evidence that a football travels faster through the air in warm weather by launching aerial missiles.

McClean's best moments graphically illustrated his potential. Unluckily, his lateral drive in from the left, beating two men, teed up the diffident Darron Gibson for a wasteful shot.

McClean's own later effort, from the outside of his left foot in a quest for an impossibly tight near-post angle, was imbued with far more conviction, amplifying the manager's requirements for his wide men to involve themselves more centrally too.

"The manager doesn't really like his wingers to stand on the touchline as they can get quite isolated at times, so there is a licence to do what you want as long as you are playing within the system," confirms McGeady.

McClean is at his best when presented with space and time to run at an opponent; Ireland's midfield, whatever their hue, is not always equipped to provide it.

However, the first half did at least end with Ward and McClean swapping places; Ward ahead of the ball and in the box awaiting a wide delivery. For Trapattoni's Ireland, this was adventurous stuff.

Until he tired, McClean's control of the football was effortless. His strength is an obviously impressive feature; he won five headers, three of them in the manner in which Kevin Kilbane was often used from kick-outs.

His final ball was initially promising; his set-piece deliveries arrowed invitations to those in the waiting room. Significantly, it would be McGeady who would provide the game's only two moments of real magic.

"The likes of McClean and Aiden are really good at getting at their player and whipping the ball in," noted the subsequent goalscorer, Shane Long, profiting from McGeady's pinpoint precision.

"It's nice as a striker to know that's the case, because you can make your movement off that.

"James likes to get it out of his feet and get in an early ball, so it's just a case of getting across to the front post.

"That's the same with Stephen Hunt.

"Damien is more direct and likes to come in and play off the striker and trouble them that way, whereas Aiden likes to get to the by-line and dink it like he did today.

"So, it's just a case of getting the know the wingers. I know Aiden has set me up now three or four times in the last two games, so I think I'm getting a good read off him now."

Familiarity such as this is key to Trapattoni's team. McClean's novelty, then, is both friend and foe.

The timing of his late run into this squad will be reflected in how he is deployed from now on in -- as an impact substitute. Trapattoni's post-match reflections confirmed that this is so.

However, though he will not start, his influence on those who do, particularly McGeady, could be immense.

Irish Independent

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