McClean backs Rice and Maguire to prosper
For all the devastation still stinging James McClean from the emphatic World Cup play-off defeat against Denmark, the Ireland winger remains upbeat about the squad overhaul facing Martin O'Neill.
Uncertainty even surrounded the manager's own future in the aftermath of the Danish pasting, eventually getting clarified by him signing a new contract last month, but definitely gone from the picture for the UEFA Nations Cup and Euro 2020 campaigns are Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan.
The prospect of John O'Shea and Jon Walters also retiring from the international fold is pressing too, yet McClean has tipped his former Sunderland boss to mastermind the revolution ahead of the competitive games looming in September.
Life after Denmark begins with a training camp and friendly in Turkey on March 23 before the summer double-header against France and USA.
Likely to be offered his debut senior cap against the Turks is Declan Rice, the West Ham United teenager McClean rates highly, while Sean Maguire should earn only his second cap if the Preston North End striker overcomes the hamstring injury which required surgery in November.
The new era, according to the Derry native, requires greater responsibility taken by a cohort of players, including himself.
The Ireland squad is unrecognisable to the one he joined in the run-up to 2012 European Championships, with the influence of stalwarts Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Shay Given missing.
"We've had a good run in recent years by reaching back-to-back European finals and a World Cup play-off but I'm not worried at all about the future of the Ireland team," he contended.
"A couple of players have retired but there won't be massive changes. A lot of us coming to our peak years now, coming into our prime. It's key for players like myself, Seamus Coleman, David Meyler and Shane Duffy to step up as well in the absence of these more senior players bowing out.
"Having been in the same team as Wes, watching him in training too, he was an unbelievable player but I wouldn't say it's a worry. We've a lot of players with their own styles.
"Sean Maguire has been on the scene and can add to the squad. I'm not sure which way Declan Rice is going to go, as he's available for England, but if he came in as well, another very good young footballer. I'm pretty positive we can carry on the success of last years."
Success, be it results or getting starts, has been hard to come by for McClean at club level this season. The spectre of relegation was engulfing West Brom before last week's controversy involving four senior players on the warm-weather training camp erupted and the former Derry City flanker concedes time is against his side.
"With 11 games left, there is time to turn things around but it will be doom and gloom unless we start winning games," he said.
"When you're at the bottom of the table and another week goes by, you're always telling yourself you've got next week. But we're seven points adrift and now running out of next-weeks.
"The only way we're going to turn things around is by everyone pulling together, putting in the graft and getting ourselves out of this rut.
"That starts on Saturday with a big game against Huddersfield Town at home. It's the first of five matches against sides at a similar level to us.
"We were very structured and defensive under Tony Pulis but now this manager (Alan Pardew) has us playing a more attacking and free-flowing style. We have to buy into what the manager is doing or it is not going to work."
Had there been a bigger bid, McClean might be in a promotion hunt instead of relegation fight. Derby County's €10m bid on the final day of the January transfer deadline didn't match West Brom's valuation and he continues to be used as an impact substitute in the Premier League.
He said: "It (the Derby move) was on the cards but it didn't happen and I can sulk but at the end of the day I have a job to do at West Brom. I'm helping us avoid the drop."
James McClean was in Dublin yesterday to launch Neymar Jr's Five, Red Bull's unique five-a-side football tournament. See www.neymarjrsfive.com for details
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