Martin O’Neill and James McClean have two things in common. Number one: they are both doing quite well at Sunderland. Number two: both men were born in Northern Ireland.
There can be no dispute over either of those facts. They were even born in the same county.
You would think, therefore, that both O’Neill and McClean would be considered as Northern Irish.
Londonderry-born McClean, however, says that’s not the case.
The winger, who is expected to be named in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad later this week, despite winning seven Under-21 caps with Northern Ireland |(pictured), has cried foul on being labelled as such.
McClean enhanced his burgeoning reputation with another goal — the winner in Sunderland’s 1-0 victory over Stoke City on Saturday.
The strike was one of the highlights of Match of the Day 2’s weekend round-up, with the Belfast-born presenter proudly reminding viewers that this was a fellow countryman scoring in the Premier League — not something that happens too often nowadays — as he described McClean as ‘Northern Irish’.
Not me was McClean’s response as he replied via his Twitter account: “Colin murray get it right will you its #irish”
The 22-year-old’s insistance that he’s Irish rather than Northern Irish may reflect his decision to snub a call-up from former Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington last August in favour of the Republic — who at that particular time hadn’t shown any intent to hand him a cap.
Now, having taken the Premier League by storm in the last eight weeks, he is on Trapattoni’s radar, even though the Italian said a couple of weeks ago that it was unlikely he’d be taking the former Derry City man to the Euro 2012 finals.
The incentive of a seat on the plane to Poland looks set to be presented to him when the Republic squad for their friendly against the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium at the end of this month is announced on Friday.
While Michael O’Neill would love to call upon him, McClean’s club boss, Martin O’Neill, is anticipating that his starlet will take to the international stage like a duck to water.
“I don't think he would have a problem with it,” said Martin.
“I can understand Trapattoni being very loyal to a group of players that he's worked with for the last two years and who have seen him through.
“I think that they would have to have a serious look at James and the form he is showing. My own view is that he would be a genuine asset to them, but I do stress it is my own view.”
The Czech game will be McClean’s only real chance to impress Trapattoni before the Republic manager gets down to deciding which 23 players will make up his squad for the finals.
The FAI yesterday announced a friendly in Hungary on Monday June 4, just before the tournament starts, but by that time the selection process will have finished.
There is no such selection concerns with the Black Cats. Currently McClean’s name is one of the first on the team-sheet and he is a certain starter in tonight’s FA Cup fourth round replay against Middlesbrough.
He is playing at the very top of his form and that is also impacting on an increase in confidence levels. O’Neill, however, knows that a time will come when he has to leave the young man out of the team, when form and confidence both take a dip.
“It's given him encouragement to go and take players on and play his natural game, and he is thriving on it,” said O’Neill.
“He has been exceptional for us. He has got into the team, he has held his place on merit and is growing in confidence and it's great to see, it really is.
“What he has done, the level he has been playing at and the consistency he has been showing has been truly amazing. I have been pleasantly surprised by it, it hasn't dropped.
“There will be a dip in his form, there will be a dip in the team's form.
“We will lose a game, we will lose two matches and we will not know where the next point is coming from.
“All of that there is around the corner and it's how we react eventually to that again.”
Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray has quite a crop of talented youngsters at his disposal and he is challenging them to use McClean as the blueprint for a successful rise to regular first-team action.
“I don't really know the history of it, other than Steve Bruce will have brought the boy McClean in from Ireland, and he didn't really surface until Martin came,” said Mowbray.
“He probably saw him in a reserve match, he was perceived as a young boy, got an opportunity and he hasn't looked back.
“Some young boys at our football club who have been playing development games and not being around the team, if they get an opportunity, who's to say they don't grab it with both hands, score the winner, push themselves in for next weekend and off they go?”