McClean’s Republic debut caps star turn
James McClean is determined not to be a one-hit wonder after making his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland.
The Sunderland winger got his big chance as a late substitute in Wednesday night's 1-1 friendly draw with the Czech Republic in Dublin after manager Giovanni Trapattoni finally answered the clamour for the 22-year-old's inclusion.
McClean's bow may have been only a brief cameo, but the warmth with which he was welcomed on to the pitch when he replaced Aiden McGeady with 11 minutes remaining — his manager joked, “I thought, ‘Who is this? Messi, Maradona, Pele?”' — left a lasting impression.
Trapattoni's loyalty to the squad he has assembled and schooled meticulously since his arrival in Ireland in May 2008 means the former Derry City midfielder's chances of making the party which travels to the Euro 2012 finals may be slim, but he is determined to add to his first cap.
McClean said: “You want to try to get as many caps as possible for your country, and I am just over the moon to get my first one.
“But at the same time, I want to push on and in the future, maybe get into more squads.”
McClean's big night at the Aviva Stadium came just seven months after he represented the Airtricity League in the Dublin Super Cup, a tournament which took Manchester City, Celtic and Inter Milan to Dublin at the end of July.
A few weeks later, he completed his £350,000 move to the Premier League’s Sunderland, and his emergence under new manager Martin O'Neill since December has been spectacular.
McClean admitted he could hardly have expected his career to have taken off as it has.
He said: “To be honest, no. If you had told me that, I would probably have laughed at you.
“It's been a great few months for me — and hopefully now the next few months can be even better.”
Whether or not his Euro 2012 hopes are forlorn, McClean returned to Wearside to prepare for Sunday's derby clash with Newcastle knowing only a continuation of his current run of form will result in further international honours.
He said: “At the end of the day, that's my main focus, to do well with Sunderland. The only way I am going to get international recognition is by doing well for them. Hopefully we can go on and have a good end to the season and try to get as many points as we can and get as high in the table as we can.”
Whatever else he did during his few days with the squad, McClean certainly made an impression, on the training pitch in Malahide as well as in Wednesday night's game.
Skipper Robbie Keane (pictured) was impressed by what he saw, and heard as he prepared for his return to LA Galaxy and the task of maintaining his
from and fitness ahead of an exciting summer. He said: “It was a great reception. He needs to keep going, keep plugging away for Sunderland, keep doing what he's been doing.
“It's a tough few months for a lot of the players, they have just got to keep going, keep themselves fit and try to get themselves into the squad.”
Meanwhile, Keane and his team-mates have agreed a reduced Euro 2012 qualification bonus deal amid ongoing economic difficulties. Agreement was reached after a brief meeting on Monday with the players accepting a reduction on the figures paid when the Republic reached the 2002 World Cup finals. Reports have suggested the package could eventually amount to €2m (£1.6m) depending on how they fare in Poland and Ukraine this summer. An FAI statement said: “The Football Association of Ireland and the players have confirmed that they agreed qualification bonuses after a constructive and brief meeting on Monday.
“In recognition of the wider economic climate, the players were happy to agree to a reduction in qualification payments made in 2002.
“On behalf of all strands of the sport, the Football Association of Ireland thanks the players for their readiness to accept a reduction and for their determination to avoid the use of external agents during direct talks which were conducted in an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding.”