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Wearside hard yards at heart of Martin O'Neill and James McClean bond

James McClean. Photo: Sportsfile
James McClean. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

First day in the job, press conference over, Martin O'Neill went to watch James McClean play for Sunderland reserves at Hetton-le-Hole, Bob Paisley's birthplace. When the winger from Derry, O'Neill's home county, got the ball, he ran and caused havoc. He made his league debut that weekend and became a regular.

The job became even busier, managing a young, raw boy. McClean spent many hours in his office. And he was just about under control on the pitch back then, just eager to play football. Enter John O'Shea, the Sunderland captain. This is when he first encountered the two key figures in last Monday's victory in Cardiff. He says they have a bond. It started on Wearside.

My lasting memory of that time is O'Shea with his arm around McClean's shoulders, talking in his ear trying to guide and help him, be it before, during or after matches.

He laughs now. "You did have to keep reminding him. There were a lot of times when I'd tell him in the morning, but he'd forgotten by lunchtime, so I'd remind him again at teatime and then hopefully it would sink in."

He offers this assessment of the pair:

James McClean

"He has definitely matured, without a doubt. He has a lovely family behind him now and he knows he has to look after them. 'Matured with an edge' is definitely a good way to put it, and that is what you want and that is why he is the player he is.

"Those players, when they have that edge, they feel they need that to perform to the levels they do. He picked up another little caution (against Wales) and you just think if you could get rid of that . . . because you don't want him to miss games. But we will take it if he can score goals like that.

"James has been the main man for the campaign, the catalyst in the side, without a doubt. That comes from confidence the manager gives him and the faith he has shown, going back to the Sunderland days, when he gave him his chance. James has been respond ing to him ever since and that goes back to Martin's style and technique as a manager and how he gets the best out of players. James is the perfect example of that.

"He took a few brave steps along the way to go out and play football at Wigan and he is back in the Premier League now and hopefully he can force his way back into the West Brom team. He has not been playing as much as he would like, for someone in his prime.

"Hopefully he can get some game-time, but as he said, tongue in cheek, he has a Welsh manager in Tony Pulis so that might go against him for the time being. But I am sure he will prove a valuable asset for West Brom."

Martin O'Neill

"It is just the experience and the know-how. When you look at Trapattoni, as he liked to remind everybody, it was about the small detail. And that is what you get with experience, knowing how to play in certain games. The calmness he shows before some of these big games is brilliant.

"He has been there and seen it and he knows how the lads are going to be feeling and what they need in preparation - such as watching certain videos. He'll only play little clips because he knows the boys don't need to be overloaded with information.

"All those little things come into play and the analysis helped when you see the winning goal the other night. We were told, in terms of waiting, Wales might play it out and Jeff (Hendrick) was ready to pounce at that time. There was real tenacity from Jeff, which you can see coming into his game under the manager, and that is going to be important for Ireland for the future."

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