Sunderland star shares joy at 'greatest honour any player can achieve'
James McClean was lying in bed in his Derry home yesterday morning when his phone started to beep with a regularity which suggested that something was up.
The easy-going Sunderland star, who returned home for his niece's Christening after Saturday's FA Cup win over Arsenal, tends to take things in his stride. But this was special news. Giovanni Trapattoni had announced that McClean was being added to the Ireland squad for Wednesday week's friendly with the Czech Republic.
"I was actually half asleep and my phone was going mad with text messages," says the 22-year-old.
"People were wishing me well, and telling me to check Sky Sports News as soon as possible. So I got out of bed, went downstairs and turned on the TV. Then I saw on the breaking news bar that I was called up.
"It's the greatest honour any player can achieve and I'm looking forward to linking up with the squad at the weekend."
Understandably, McClean cannot contain his delight at his call-up, which caps the meteoric rise that has seen him become one of the most eye-catching young players in the Premier League.
This time 12 months ago, he was sitting out Derry City's pre-season training with a hamstring complaint, and wondering if he would be ready for a proper taste of the League of Ireland Premier Division.
Remember, this is a player who only completed his first full season in senior football during Derry's triumphant First Division campaign in 2010.
His performances during the opening months of that top-flight campaign with the Candystripes attracted interest from a host of clubs, none more so than Sunderland. Having been given his debut by Martin O'Neill, McClean has hardly looked back.
"I've come a long way in one year," he admits.
"It's crazy to think how much of a difference a year can make. This time last year, I was really down and seemed to be getting setback after setback.
"I had a hip-flexor injury before pre-season and then I missed most of pre-season because of a torn hamstring. To be actually able to look back on that time, and see where I am now, it's unreal."
Coming from a close-knit community in the Creggan area of Derry, McClean fully understands just how much this means to the people around him.
They have been a source of support, particularly in the storm that followed his decision to declare for the Republic and turn down the advances of Northern Ireland.
"It (the call-up) means everything to me, my family and my friends. My phone has been crazy all day with people wishing me well and telling me how proud they are of me, and I just want to do them all proud," he says with a broad smile on his face.
Having been left out of the initial 23-man squad announced by Trapattoni almost two weeks ago, the exciting winger made a point of not letting that disappointment affect his club form, and followed up with two strong performances, including one goal, against Arsenal in back-to-back games.
He did, however, credit the Italian for calling him before the announcement. "Obviously I was very disappointed with not being picked when the squad was announced first. I spoke with him (Trapattoni) the night before the announcement, and he told that he was impressed with how I was doing.
"I really appreciated that, because it's not every day you have a person of his calibre on the phone to you telling you you're doing great."
McClean is due to return to Sunderland later this week, but visited his old stomping ground, the Brandywell, for the Setanta Cup tie between Derry City and Lisburn Distillery last night.
"It's my first time back at the Brandywell since I moved to Sunderland. It's a place that will always be close to my heart, as will the club, because there are some great people there and it's where I became the player that I am.
"I'll always try to get back here as much as I can and hopefully during the summer I'll take in a few games," he says, knowing that the possibility of being on the plane to Poland is now within his grasp.