Monday 27 May 2019

Comment: James McClean's passionate ability to compromise his deeply-held beliefs can unite Irish squad


Harry Arter on the ball during a Republic of Ireland training session at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Harry Arter on the ball during a Republic of Ireland training session at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

As the now familiarly hesitant Irish squad begin preparations for another sequence of nervously anticipated double-headers, few might have expected the figure of James McClean to deliver the most authoritative representation of absolute certainty from within the camp.

Then again, for a man so often lazily characterised in cartoon colours, it is perhaps often too easy to absorb the stereotype.

The Derryman's approach to the life he lives off the field mirrors the manner in which he attacks the game itself. Direct. Honest. Purposeful. Passionate. Uncompromising. Take it or leave it.

His mood music is exactly what Ireland need to consume them this week as he returns from injury with his broken wrist encased in, natch, a green bandage. One would not be surprised his blood flows the same colour.

But when it comes to the colour of his jersey, his willingness to compromise his strident beliefs for the sake of a greater cause is exactly what his country's perilously wobbling football fortunes need to galvanise them for the challenges that lie ahead.

With the forcefulness of his trademark tackling, he confronts the issues that have threatened to drown a squad already suffering due to the perceived inadequacies of so many of its players, never mind the coaching staff paid handsomely to extract the best of their limited ability.

Spurning the almost automatic default setting of the modern professional, who prefer to sugar-coat whispers of discontent and harbour their resentments in private, McClean, whose life has been defined by his identity, refuses to indulge in obsequious accommodation.

And so the gauntlet is laid down to Harry Arter. No, McClean does not agree with the fact that the player refused the call-up to play for his country last month.

Nor does he concede an inch of ground when reminded of his controversial comments surrounding Declan Rice's ongoing ambivalence about his international future.

However, as far as McClean is concerned, his own personal opinions are not necessarily incompatible with his willingness to conformity as far as both players are concerned.

To his mind, Arter is here this week and, should he display the same willingness and hunger that McClean expects of a team-mate, that is all that matters. So too with Rice - whenever, or if ever - he decides to return to the embrace of the first country that offered him an international career.

McClean is able to divine the distinction between his own deeply-held objections to a person's opinion and the possibility that he might find their owner a thoroughly agreeable individual.

In the cases of Rice and Arter, his ability to locate that subtle - yet often ignorantly dismissed - difference, should serve as a lodestar to not only his team-mates but the wider Irish soccer support base too.

Because for those hailing from a constituency who remain passionate about their national side, rather than those who only occasionally hitch themselves on for the ride, their support recognises a much bigger picture.

This week, the Irish squad are united, unlike the fractious factions which seemed to emerge during their last gathering in this country.

And McClean's forceful comments serve to underline this point.

Translating that into worthy performances on the field is quite another matter, for a variety of reasons, but disunity and disharmony will not be amongst their number.

Irish Independent

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