McClean delighted O’Neill is staying on as Ireland manager
West Brom winger says criticism of boss after Denmark defeat was ‘over the top’
James McClean: “The way Martin was getting hammered about his job considering what he’d achieved? That was crazy. He’s done an unbelievable job.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It could be that if Martin O’Neill really has been undermined amongst members of the Ireland squad having considered taking the Stoke job, James McClean is simply not the one likely to articulate the collective sense of grievance.
As the 28-year-old West Brom winger sings the praises of his fellow Derryman, though, the alternative possibility – that the supposedly inevitable disgruntlement on the part of the players is simply wishful thinking on the part of O’Neill’s critics – becomes more difficult to entirely suppress.
Speaking at an event to launch this year’s edition of the Red Bull-backed Neymar branded Ireland-wide five-a-side tournament (see neymarjrsfive.com), McClean describes as “nonsense,” the notion that the players would be sufficiently put out to damage the manager.
“We are all big boys. We are professionals and our job is to go on pitch, do what we have to do and get results for the country,” he said.
That they did not quite manage that against the Danes, he acknowledges, leaves all concerned open to criticism but, he argues; “A lot of it was over the top. After the Wales game, Martin was ‘amazing’, we were all ‘amazing’. A couple of weeks later after the Denmark game, it’s the complete opposite.
“The manner of the defeat, of course… We got beat 5-1 at home to Denmark and we’re going to criticised, rightly so. But the way Martin was getting hammered about his job considering what he’d achieved? That was crazy. He’s done an unbelievable job.”
McClean makes no bones about the fact that he feels a personal debt to the 65-year-old. The manager, he says, has given him the self-belief required to excel for his country; West Brom fans might be forgiven for wishing Alan Pardew had the same knack for getting the best out of the former Sunderland and Wigan player.
“I’ve said this in the past but the biggest thing for a footballer is if a manager gives you confidence going out on a football field,” he says. “You feel 10 feet tall, that you can do anything. He gave me my debut at Sunderland with simple instructions to go out and enjoy myself. To hear those words . . .
“You make a mistake and he tells you to relax, to put it right the next time. So just to play under a manager that gives you the confidence to go out and express yourself and not have to worry if you give the ball away or make a mistake, to know he’s not going to take you off at half-time . . . I can’t express how delighted I am that he’s staying on. I feel since he’s come in, especially here in the Ireland set-up, I’ve scored a lot of goals and going forward I’m looking forward to continue working with him.”
The World Cup, he says, will be hard to watch without the constant feeling that “that could be us,” but Ireland, he maintains, can put the disappointment behind them by qualifying for the next European Championships then, he hopes of course, go one better, by booking a place at the next World Cup.
“A lot of the squad, especially the players who have been starting a lot, are a good age. I think we’re only going to grow as footballers as well. Obviously, a few new players will be coming in. Seanie Maguire has been on the scene and that’s a positive as he can add to the squad.
“I’m not sure which way Declan Rice is going to go as he’s available for England but if he came in as well, that’s another very good young footballer. We played a lot of the campaign without Séamus, and without James McCarthy as well, two very good players so I’m pretty positive that we can carry on.”