James McClean's branding of the Irish media as "as bad, if not worse" than their British counterparts when it comes to getting a "kick out of us not doing well" took an about turn yesterday when it was relayed to him that Paul McGrath and Richard Dunne are leading the criticism of Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.
“Well, Richard Dunne and Paul McGrath were unbelievable in an Irish shirt so of course I respect their opinion,” he said before taking aim at other commentators.
The Wigan winger, who became the senior member of Kenny's squad once Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring injury, appeared to misread the virtual room when dressing down local journalists, the majority of whom are still supportive of Kenny despite Saturday's 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan at the Aviva Stadium.
“I do think that,” McClean insisted. “I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it, I’ve been around now almost 10 years in the Irish team, there’s no-one going to convince me otherwise.
“If we win Tuesday night and put a run of wins together, the same people with the knives out now will be the biggest supporters again. Football’s fickle, and that’s the way it is.”
The 32-year-old decided to use the tail-end of the Martin O’Neill era as an example of how every Irish manager is attacked after bad results.
"I'm not even talking about Stephen's era, I'm talking about managers before, like I go back to Martin O'Neill; that World Cup campaign was a fantastic campaign until the very last game and then the daggers and the knives were out after the 5-1 [loss Denmark in Dublin].
“I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is madness, this is astonishing, actually, the reaction,’ considering the group we were in and how close we came. Like after Wales we were brilliant, we were unbelievable, nobody could speak highly enough of us but after Denmark it was a completely over-the-top reaction and I think that’s always going to be the case.”
That was November 2017. Come January, O'Neill signed a new two-year contract to continue as Ireland manager. Following relegation to the third tier of the Nations League, he parted company with the FAI in November 2018.
McClean did claim personal responsibility for not making life easier on younger Irish players coming into the squad, stating that he was surrounded by “men” when first capped in 2012.
"After the Portugal game that was probably the lowest I have been in an Ireland shirt. I wasn't very proud of my role, especially the first goal I could have done better. The mood after that game, everyone was so deflated, even worse than the Denmark one, just to come away with nothing in that manner.
“It is a good squad here, we just need to keep plugging away together, we know ourselves we are so close.”
When challenged on his remarks about the media, McClean asked for the names of the main culprits who are criticising Kenny. When McGrath and Dunne were offered up, he softened his stance.
“It is disappointing to hear. We have a new manager here, his first time at international level and a lot of young players experiencing it for the first time. Hopefully we start winning games again . . .. Obviously I have so much respect for Richard and Paul but hope the young lads are not seeing that as it won’t do them any good for their confidence at this moment in time.”
Describing Kenny as “such a nice man that tries to build the young players up”, McClean believes that Adam Idah and Tory Parrott possess the ability to play international football but require patience from the media and the public until the goals start to come.
“Football is cut-throat so these young players they don’t need to be put down at the minute, they need the complete opposite, they need more support than ever. That’s what I am asking for.”