Monday 18 December 2017

James McClean reveals how playing GAA helped to 'toughen him up'

Derry native eager to prove a point and hold onto Ireland starting spot

Republic of Ireland's James McClean gestures towards referee Ovidiu Hategan after being challenged by Italy's Federico Bernardeschi in the penalty area during Euro 2016
Republic of Ireland's James McClean gestures towards referee Ovidiu Hategan after being challenged by Italy's Federico Bernardeschi in the penalty area during Euro 2016
James McClean believes that his playing style brings him an ‘unfair reputation’. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

A wry smile comes across the face of James McClean as he bats away the notion of tempering his aggression in order to be more trusted by his managers.

McClean has always had a close relationship with Martin O'Neill. After all, it was O'Neill who handed him his Premier League debut in his first game of charge of Sunderland.

Going into the Euros, McClean was still largely looked at as an impact player off the bench but by the time Ireland's tournament ended in Lyon, the Derry native had started and indeed impressed in the two crucial games against Italy and France.

Returning to West Brom, McClean's confidence was high and although he found himself on the bench for the club's opening two league games, he wasn't about to bang on Tony Pulis' door demanding answers.

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West Bromwich Albion's James McClean

He has since won his place back and has started four of the Baggies' last five league games as well as scoring his first goal of the campaign.

As he looks ahead to the World Cup double-header, he has similar intentions of maintaining his place in O'Neill's starting XI.

McClean plays on the edge and, as he explains, he isn't ever going to change the style of play that has gotten him this far.

"I think if anything I have a bit of an unfair reputation," he maintains.

"I've been sent off twice in my career; one was rescinded. I think that's not bad for someone who seems to be a loose cannon running into tackles. I think I have an unfair reputation.

"It's always been my game do you know what I mean? As the saying goes, it's all or nothing. I just give my all. That's all you can do. Play as best you can and the manager seems to be pleased. I'll not change anything.

"Look, it's been going like that for a long while. It doesn't really matter. There on Saturday I got booked late on and straight away I was taken off.

"The manager said with the crowd there and how hostile it was, that I might get sent off. Things like that, sometimes it does seem a bit unfair. 

"At the end of the day, I'm not going to change. It's got me this far."

The McClean that explains his mentality now is a more mature version of the one who broke onto the scene five years ago.

Plenty of lessons have been learned along the way and there is a sense that McClean feels that his time has arrived in a green jersey.

"I'm not one of those people who'll go in and kick up a fuss and do the manager's head in," the 27-year-old says.

"I never feel it does any good. I just kept my head down and worked hard. I knew if I got my chance I'd have to take it. That's the way it has panned out. I'm in the (West Brom) team now and I'm planning on staying there.

"I obviously had that whirlwind start at Sunderland. If anything I feel I'm a better player now than I was then.

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'And I think I’m always going to get some abuse being from Derry and playing for Ireland when I had the choice I had. I think some people are always going to hold that against me, regardless'

"I came from the League of Ireland so I didn't have all the coaching that the players in England had. It was just raw talent.

"We grew up playing street football, there's nothing wrong with that. Our upbringing was street football and Gaelic; it toughened you up.

"Obviously it's a major step up again, but you think you're fit here and then you go and it's a major step up.

"You play with better players and you become a better player because you're at that higher standard. With the coaching and training every day with better players, you become a better player.

"That (dip in form) was always going to happen. That was always going to fall away at some stage. But I've worked hard.

"My time at Wigan, I worked hard on and off the pitch. It matured me as a person and a player, and I think that was important. I'm a better player for it.

"I feel I'm a better player than I was four or five years ago when I broke on the scene so yeah I think I'm raring to go and hopefully this campaign is one where I play a lot more from the start rather than come off the bench.

"I'm not that type of player who is going to kick up a fuss if I'm not starting. Deep down I'll be gutted but hopefully there will be a lot more from the start."

With O'Neill short of striking options for the visit of Georgia tomorrow and the trip to Moldova on Sunday, McClean has already been mentioned as a possible option.

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O’Neill won’t be changing tack with Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

O'Neill's influence on McClean's career has been crucial to get him to where he is today and he is eager to continue to repay the faith that his fellow Derry man has shown in him, regardless of the position he is asked to play.

"Overall, I feel I had a good tournament (Euros) and I have started the season well for West Brom," McClean maintains.

"Hopefully I've given him (O'Neill) that and done enough to not leave me out.

"He's similar to Stephen Kenny really. He puts his arm around me and makes me feel like a good player. He gives me that confidence when I go out on the pitch.

"It's the same as Tony Pulis at West Brom. I've been lucky in the sense where I've had a few good managers which has been really good for me. I'm a confidence player.

"If I'm feeling confident, I produce my best form. Those three have given me that. It's up to me to repay that and hopefully that's what I do."

The aim now is to start his fourth consecutive competitive game for Ireland and while O'Neill was cautious earlier in the week, McClean typically pulled no punches about what is required tomorrow and Sunday evening.

"There's no two ways about it, we need six points."

Playing his part in two Ireland wins would go some way to proving that he can regularly be trusted on the big stage.

Irish Independent

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