James McClean believes his proposed move to Premier League outfit Sunderland will give him the opportunity to fulfil his dream of playing for the Republic of Ireland.
Londonderry-born midfielder McClean had been selected in Nigel Worthington’s Northern Ireland squad for Wednesday night’s “must win” Euro 2012 qualifier against the Faroes Islands.
But the 22-year-old, who will today complete a move from Derry City to the Black Cats, has decided to switch allegiance to the Football Association of Ireland.
McClean insists that while he was pleased to receive a call up to the Northern Ireland panel, he only wants to play his international football with the Republic.
This is despite performing for Northern Ireland in the Milk Cup and also at Under-21 level.
“It was a blow seeing Irish League players being called up before me to the Northern Ireland squad, but having got the call I was relieved,” says McClean.
“However, it’s always been my dream to play for the Republic and hopefully that will become a reality now that I’m going to be a Sunderland player.”
Irish FA chiefs have been left reeling that a sixth Northern Irish born player, within the last three years, has quit their set-up for the FAI — especially considering they have invested thousands of pounds in their international youth development.
Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy, Marc Wilson, Daniel Kearns and Paul George have all taken advantage of a FIFA ruling which, because of the Good Friday Agreement, allows players born in Northern Ireland to play for the Republic providing they hold an Irish passport.
Northern Ireland’s 1982 World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong will tomorrow be appointed as the IFA’s international player liaison officer.
One of his main roles will be to encourage young players to stay with Northern Ireland rather than jump ship to the Republic.
“Playing for Northern Ireland is a great honour — we need to make sure players realise that from a young age,” concedes Armstrong.
“I’m disappointed in James’ decision but maybe this could be one of those scenarios where I intervene. Ultimately it will be Nigel’s decision.”
Worthington is struggling for attacking options ahead of the game against the Faroes with Kyle Lafferty, Martin Paterson and Josh McQuoid all out injured and Chris Brunt suspended.
But the Northern Ireland boss is refusing to let McClean’s defection and the absentees cause a major distraction from a game Northern Ireland must claim three points from to stay in the Euro 2012 Group C qualifying hunt.
Worthington says: “It is disappointing to lose players ahead of an important qualifier; but our focus remains on Wednesday night.”