'I saw James going 70 yards to lamp the lad' - Martin O'Neill urges McClean to cool down
Martin O'Neill has advised James McClean to channel his passion and aggression in the right way against Denmark in Saturday's play-off away leg in Copenhagen.
The West Brom winger was back in the headlines again over the weekend when a late tackle away at Huddersfield enraged home supporters.
McClean's refusal to wear a poppy on his shirt attracts extra scrutiny in the month of November and the winger was furious that the flashpoint was highlighted on TV coverage - without reference to missiles that were hurled in his direction in the aftermath.
His international manager feels that the Derry man is miffed by the lack of game-time at West Brom and that spilled over into his cameo.
But he knows that McClean's physical approach needs to be tempered at times, especially when a booking in Denmark would rule him out of next Tuesday's decider in Dublin.
McClean has been Ireland's most important player in this qualifying campaign and the manager says he would be a huge loss from his plans.
"I thought that was frustration," said O'Neill in offering a droll take on the booking McClean received for a rash attempt to halt Huddersfield's Tom Ince.
"I saw James going 70 yards to lamp the lad.
And he missed him apparently! I said to James 'What about the intention? Intention is now part of the game and the fact that you might have missed him - had you hit him you probably would have put him over the stand'
"He's fine, McClean has been great for us and he just has to channel that frustration from obviously not getting into a side that is not winning football matches - and maybe he thinks that he should.
"We need him in these two games. And he can see a bit of red mist and sometimes that's what makes him.
"Other times he needs to just cool down, cool it for a second. He just needs to be a wee bit more careful. We could not do without him."
The Ireland manager was in charge at Sunderland when McClean first made the decision to wear a poppy-free shirt in 2012 and was supportive of the player for taking a stance that has made him a target for taunts from the crowd.
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McClean has consistently explained his position, stressing that he could not wear a poppy because it has come to represent all British Army conflicts - including activities in Northern Ireland that had a serious impact on the area of Derry where he grew up.
"I think that's a question that you would have to ask James," said O'Neill, when asked if the player's position on the poppy was wise. "I know where James comes from and I have the utmost regard for him as a person.
"James, honestly, has been fantastic. And the great thing he knows is that he will come here and the crowd love him and quite rightly so because of what he has done for the team.
"He just needs to cool down, get his head right for the game. He's got a couple of days now to settle down.
"Things have been thrown - both literally and metaphorically - at James most weeks, so you just have to cope with it.
I told you before - was it the Poland game? He came on as a sub and even Roy Keane said to him, 'just be careful'. He acknowledged he would be careful and 30 seconds later he has just 'done' a fella!
"But James has said that he has learned from that... he's learned to take longer than 30 seconds before he lamps somebody," added O'Neill with a smile.
"He's a great character. I like to see him here and I would have been more worried about him getting on in the last 15 minutes of that match and getting injured."
O'Neill's Burnley contingent have reported for duty off the back of a happy spell at club level, but concern hangs over Jeff Hendrick who was taken off in their win at Southampton due to a glute problem.
Hendrick is worried and sat out training yesterday but there has been improvement over the past 24 hours and the Irish manager is happy that the play-off schedule fell in such a way that allowed Ireland to kick things off on Saturday.
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