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Fans' favourite McClean handed chance

Giovanni Trapattoni answered the pleas of a nation when he named James McClean in his squad for the Euro 2012 finals.

Just six months ago, McClean was a relative unknown outside Ireland as he waited patiently for a chance to show what he could do in the Barclays Premier League for Sunderland.

But now he will be given the opportunity to showcase his skills to a pan-European audience as the fairytale which his career has become continues unabated.

The 23-year-old got his big chance when then Black Cats boss Steve Bruce made a £350,000 summer swoop to snap him up from Derry City, but he did not get the opportunity to shine until Martin O'Neill turned to him once he took the helm at the Stadium of Light.

In O'Neill's first game in charge, his side trailed 1-0 to Blackburn on Wearside and the elation which surrounded his appointment was ebbing away.

He threw on McClean, and from the moment he first received the ball and headed directly for his marker, the crowd was lifted. Although it was goals from David Vaughan and Sebastian Larsson which transformed the prospect of defeat into a morale-boosting victory, it was the youngster from Derry who had set tongues wagging.

He won his first start for his club in a famous 1-0 victory over champions-elect Manchester City on New Year's Day, and has not missed a game since, contributing six goals to a recovery which has tailed off only in the last few weeks.

McClean's form sparked a clamour in Ireland for him to be capped at senior level, although Trapattoni's loyalty to the men who booked the nation's ticket to Poland and Ukraine meant the youngster was not initially included in the squad for the February friendly against the Czech Republic.

However, fate was to intervene when injuries prompted Trapattoni to add him to the party.

Rarely can a player have received such an ovation on debut as McClean did when he emerged from the bench to replace Aiden McGeady in a late cameo. Trapattoni later joked: "I thought, 'Who is this? Messi, Maradona, Pele?'"

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