Belfast Telegraph

James McClean determined to fulfil his boyhood dream on the big stage with Republic of Ireland at Euros

By Daniel McDonnell

There have been moments in the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 warm-up games where James McClean has literally tackled the definition of friendly.

Prior to Shane Long's introduction in the dour loss to Belarus, it was McClean's eagerness to dive full on into challenge after challenge that provided some entertainment.

It's an approach that rides a fine line with fussy match officials and Martin O'Neill once joked that even Roy Keane had warned the Londonderry man to tone it down on occasion.

McClean is unlikely to change his approach because he feels it is so closely tied in with the identity that shaped his personality.

The boy from Creggan grew up with a combative streak. He accepts that his approach doesn't come as easily to players who spent their formative days in calmer neighbourhoods.

"I think it's got a lot to do with where I grew up," said McClean, who comes into the Euros buoyed by a successful Premier League return at West Brom and the wedding which he managed to fit into the break between the end of the season and the start of French camp.

"I was a fan growing up as well so just sitting in front of the TV watching games when you were a young boy and things weren't going well, you'd be thinking 'if I could do this or I could do that'. Well, now I am in a position where luckily enough maybe I can do something about it.

"Not everybody's raised the same. Everybody's got different backgrounds, different cultures, different ways they were raised. It's just the Creggan mentality where I'm from."

The 27-year-old enjoys the scrap. He is asked about changing his game, but feels his enjoyment would change if he went about things differently.

"You can't win either way," he shrugged. "If you're pulling out of tackles then it's 'he's not pulling his weight' and then when you do go in hard, it's 'he's a liability', but if you're going into games thinking 'I can't do this, I can't do that', where's the fun going to come from?

"I think the managers understand as well that aggression is a big part of my game. They just try to encourage me to play my normal game. That's what I do."

He concurred with the criticism from Keane during the assistant manager's withering assessment of the Belarus display.

"I thought his comments were spot on," he said. "Not everyone can always have a good game but the bare minimum is that a player should put 110 per cent into his performance.

"I can only speak for myself: I'm here, I want to play and not just be happy to be here."

The mission is to achieve a childhood ambition - Euro 2012 didn't quite deliver.

"I remember 2002 well," he added. "Getting up early to watch Cameroon and getting the day off school to watch us beat Saudi Arabia. If we can recreate those memories, it would be special. Hopefully someone here can be that Damien Duff or Robbie Keane."

McClean will stop at nothing in his attempt to leave a legacy.

Belfast Telegraph