James McClean: ‘Maybe when I retire I will get more recognition for my football ability than I do now’

Wrexham winger hesitant to bow out of international football following the New Zealand clash after 103 caps over 12 years

From later bloomer to stardust at Wrexham, James McClean has seen it all.

Now the Republic of Ireland have finished their worst qualification campaign since 1962 with another loss in Amsterdam on Saturday night, everyone connected to the side is being asked to explain the core issues that led to Stephen Kenny’s team scoring two just goals and conceding 10 across six defeats to France, the Netherlands and Greece.

Blame cannot be heaped entirely on a manager who attempted to rebuild the status quo.

“The pretty obvious one is there’s two better teams,” said McClean. “Greece beat us home and away so you could argue they’re better as well but with France and Holland, it was always going to be a major task.


“Without getting too much into it, this is probably a domestic thing to be honest. You look at our domestic league compared to theirs, you look at the head start they have from a young age. We don’t have that in this country in a sense. We need more funding.”

McClean also revealed, in the same answer, how little players know about the inner workings of the FAI.

“I heard something the other day and, look, I’m not 100 per cent on it and I don’t know too much about it, but I heard the funding again towards the FAI is going to be cut by 50 per cent,” said McClean. “You’re competing with your hands tied behind your back.”

Sport Ireland paused funding recently of a reported €500,000 over erroneous payments to its chief executive Jonathan Hill, who received €20,000 in commuting expenses and in lieu of holidays not taken.

The FAI are also facing a 50 per cent cut in further Government funding, amounting to €4.35 million, if they fail to attain 40 per cent female representation on their board of directors before the Annual General Meeting on December 9th.

“We need a strong domestic league,” McClean repeated. “That definitely hinders the national team, there is no getting away from that.”

Winning the first of 102 caps for the Republic of Ireland aged 22, Tuesday’s friendly against New Zealand will be his last time wearing the green shirt. It did not sound like McClean was overly keen on international retirement. The reasons have nothing to do with his physical prowess or form, he stated, with Kenny noting last month that his move to Wrexham in the fourth tier of English football was a factor.

“I will be honest with you, it’s not because of my body, or I feel my ability has diminished. I still feel as fit as ever. I still believe I am the best person for the role. I have never doubted myself. I played 46 games out of 46 in the Championship last season, 45 of them starting. Ability wise, I was second for fullbacks in goals and assists, and for most successful tackles in the whole league.

“There are other factors. I have personal reasons and my own reasons for stepping away. I feel now is the right time to step aside. Let others come through, I’ve had my time, I have no regrets. For me, now is the perfect time to step away. I have no regrets.”

McClean’s record stands up to scrutiny, having scored 11 goals and provided 13 assists in 158 Premier League matches and 24 goals and 37 assists across 221 Championship appearances.

The 34-year-old has no plans to retire from football with his short-term plan being a month-long holiday in Florida next summer.

On the squad he leaves behind, he added: “This group of lads are the future of Irish football. There’s no taking away from that. It will get better with experience. The ability is certainly there. I am actually very confident that this group of players will reach major tournaments.”

And his own legacy? “My self-belief is probably my biggest attribute, my mindset. I see some of the comments, ‘He was never the most gifted’ and this and that. That insults me because you have to have ability, you don’t go on to play 12 years in England, I’ve got 150 Premier League games, 103 international caps after tomorrow night.

“You have to have ability. I see this ‘Aww yeah, great work ethic’ and this and that. ‘He’s a good runner’ yeah well go grab Mo Farah off the street and stick him in. You have to have ability to go with it. When I read comments like that, it insults me. Maybe when I retire I will get more recognition for my football ability than I do now.”

The boy from the Creggan also sustained years of abuse at many English grounds and death threats for refusing to wear the poppy in remembrance of British military personnel who died on duty. Now at Wrexham, a club that produce a reality TV show, he takes satisfaction from his “longevity” in a “very, very hard industry,” especially after securing his family’s financial future.

I’m absolutely very, very proud of that.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent