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James McClean: It was a no-brainer to chip in for League of Ireland player fund

 

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Former Derry City winger James McClean

Former Derry City winger James McClean

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Former Derry City winger James McClean

James McClean says it was a 'no-brainer' to chip into a fund set up to support League of Ireland players facing hardship over the Covid-19 crisis.

McClean and other clients of Integrity Sports, the company set up by ex-Ireland international Graham Barrett, have come together to put €25,000 into an emergency pot that will help out players through this unexpected struggle.

Sligo Rovers became the first full-time club to lay off their players and staff temporarily and it is anticipated that others will have to follow suit.

McClean had already donated supplies to help struggling families in Derry but also felt it was important to lend a hand to the LoI players, having been asked to contribute by Barrett.

"It's a sad situation," he said.

"The League of Ireland is where I came from, it's where I came through. It's been good to me and the other lads and when Graham pitched this idea to us, it was a no-brainer. It's not going to solve the crisis but hopefully it's a small gesture that can go a long way and maybe it can help.

"I have been there myself. It isn't a very rewarding league. If you have a career in the League of Ireland, the chances are you're going to have to work afterwards. There's more money over here and I know that I'm fortunate, I don't take the position I am in for granted. I've been on the other side of it.

"I follow the league religiously still, and I saw the news with Sligo Rovers. It's a tragic thing to see. I saw the Drogheda thing a couple of days ago (the First Division club have deferred payments) and unfortunately it's just going to get worse. Getting people through the gates is what the clubs rely on."

In England, where football is now suspended until the end of April at the earliest, there is increasing pressure on the haves to help out the have-nots. The English Football League sought help from the Premier League after drawing up their own rescue package. The Stoke City winger is conscious that the turbulent picture in Ireland makes things more testing for the authorities.

"Football at all levels is going to take a financial hit. I know the clubs at the very top (in the UK) don't necessarily rely on gates because there is TV money, but they will still lose out," continued McClean.

"I think it's moreso got to come from governing bodies. The way the FAI has been the last couple of years, that's not something to rely on because they have been in trouble financially. It's unfortunate."

The 30-year-old has no idea when he will be back on a pitch again himself.

When football activity was shut down, McClean was nearing a return from the injury that had made him a serious doubt for Ireland's Euro 2020 playoff with Slovakia before it was moved to June.

He will be available for whatever comes down the tracks, yet he is conscious that there is no certainty about when important games with club and country will take place.

McClean is isolating at home with his wife Erin and their three children and has his own gym facilities on-site that are allowing him to tick over.

"I've got a gym where I've got everything I need and a back yard with grass that is big enough to get in the football side of fitness so I'm blessed enough that I've got everything I need to keep fit," he said. "But nothing compares to match fitness.

"I've been training as hard as I can, sometimes two or three times per day, almost out of boredom. If anything, it gives me more time to recover from the injury. It's not a great situation but it's just one you've got to make the best of. I've been trying to stay off the TV and the news. I've been seeing stuff through my phone and hopefully it's all resolved soon."

Irish Independent