Monday 11 December 2017

'You like to show you haven't changed, but sometimes people don't understand. People forget you're a person as well'

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS is your life now, James McClean.

It's been a long day, and he wants to go home. Patrick McClean has patiently waited in Dublin Airport's Clarion Hotel for his son to sit through one interview after another, dealing with attention that was alien to him just six months ago. The drive back to Derry awaits. There's a flight to catch in the morning. Manchester United on Sunday. No time to think.

"I suppose it's a good thing," says James, smiling, as he kicks off another discussion. "If you're not doing well, then people aren't looking for you."

Still, it's taking him a while to adjust. This week has been another example, the elation of his Euro 2012 call quickly followed by more Twitter controversy. By his own admission, he's still learning, coming to terms with the fact that every word he utters is suddenly important.

"I have to be careful now with things I say," he admits. "Whereas before, whatever I said was just seen as a bit of friendly banter with my mates, it's different now. Things can be put in another context.


"It's a whole different lifestyle to what I've been used to."

Almost everything has changed. All that remains constant is his attitude. From his early teens, the young boy from the Creggan area decided that if he was going to be a professional footballer, then he would have to strive to live like the very best.

While friends and acquaintances started drinking, he shunned the offers.

"They obviously thought 'this boy is weird' and they're obviously trying to tempt you into it, but after a while you get used to it," he reflects.

Food was the same. If Patrick was left in charge of mealtime, the easy option of a takeaway was vetoed. James demanded that the right kind of things were cooked.

"It's common sense, really, isn't it?" he shrugs. "It's important what you eat. I spoke to some people about it, who understood nutrition and things like that, and they gave me a steer, but I decided off my own bat. I just had to mind myself.

"I wanted to be a professional footballer and wanted to go the right way about it so, obviously, if you don't look after yourself, then what's the point? You don't have the right attitude. It was important I had it."

The words hint at maturity beyond his years, but McClean still wants to be young. That's the difficult part of his rise to fame. Hanging out in Derry with his friends used to be easy. Now it's a test of patience. Don't get him wrong, he appreciates the attention and the support. But it can get too much. He doesn't want fame to change him but, deep down, he knows that it will never be the same again.

"If you go on a night out, it's crazy," he explains. "You don't get to enjoy your night, you're taking pictures all the time, and everyone is talking to you and you're having the same conversation over and over.

"You like to show you haven't changed, but sometimes people don't understand. Everybody wants a piece of you, but you want to talk to your friends, and you really haven't got time for everybody. People forget you're a person as well. You like to do what they like to do, without any hassle."

Before, it was straight-forward. As a winger with Derry City, he commanded a certain amount of attention, particularly in the run-up to his big move to Sunderland. But he wasn't a wealthy man. His last contract with the Candystripes ran for 40 weeks; in the winter months there was no income. "Living at home helped," he explains. "It was a matter of having money kept away to tide me over."

Stephen Kenny, his former manager, worried about the cash that his star player spent on two of his passions; keeping fit and new football boots.

"I had an obsession with boots," he grins, sheepishly. "They cost me a lot of money in the past."

And now? "They're free now! I have a lot more."

It begs the question of what exactly he is spending his money on. Remember, in March he signed a long-term contract that will make him a millionaire. And his clean living means he won't be splurging it on bad habits

"I think I've got a problem when it comes to clothes and shoes," he interjects. "I've got a major problem when it comes to that. I've got a few wardrobes now.

"I'm going through them thinking, I forgot I had that. Shirts and ties, and all sorts. But you don't have as much worries. You've a lot more freedom to do things. It's a way of treating yourself for working hard."

Whatever happens, Derry will always be home. He will never lose the strong pride that he feels towards his city, and agrees that people from outside sometimes don't understand what makes his birthplace unique.

"They're a very proud people," he stresses, "and I'm no different. I want to make them proud."

His terminated Twitter account profile picture depicted McClean holding a replica of Free Derry corner, a place which has special significance for the Catholic community. Some reports in English papers have spoken of McClean as a promising player from 'Londonderry' and he just shakes his head.

"The picture was just a bit of friendly banter," he insists. "That's just showing to people that it's Derry, which it is."

He recalls all business on Foyleside coming to a standstill during the 2002 World Cup. McClean is determined to deliver a special buzz for the natives this time around. Some family will make the trip, including his younger sibling, Patrick, who is 15 and showing potential.

Already, he's progressed to U-17 level and is displaying some of the same attributes, right down to the fussy eating.

Any advice from the elder brother? "Work hard, and go about it the right way," he replies.

It's a simple recipe for negotiating a complicated world.

James McClean and Keith Duffy were in Dublin yesterday to launch The Dublin Staff Relay 2012, a 5 x 5km fun relay race involving staff members from organisations all around the Dublin area which takes place in the Phoenix Park on May 24 at 6.0pm. Irish Autism Action is the official charity partner of the event and 20pc of every team entry will go directly to charity. For further details:

Irish Independent

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