James McClean — The Second Coming?
David Meyler picked the ball up in the right-back position before passing to Wes Hoolahan infield. Hoolahan then spun before playing McClean in on goal and he duly smashed the ball low and hard through the keeper’s legs and into the back of the Austrian net. A famous Irish goal which marks a high point in the career of 27 year old James McClean.
McClean made his run confident that he would outpace the Austrian full back and safe in the knowledge that Hoolahan’s pass would be weighted to find his run perfectly. McClean echoed a shared sentiment amongst the current Irish squad, that is an appreciation of when Hoolahan has the ball at his feet, he will pick you out. “With Wes on the ball he’s going to find you, he’s got that quality.” He then had the composure to finish the chance. “There was no doubt about it, once I got into that position I was going to shoot.” Such is the attacking confidence that is in this side at the moment, it means that Irish fans are being treated to free-flowing football at times, something that was sorely missing from their football in the past. This campaign has seen Ireland net 7 goals so far, incidentally six of those seven goals have been scored by League of Ireland products. A hugely encouraging statistic from an Irish viewpoint. A sign that our home-grown talent can produce international quality footballers capable of deciding matches despite the lack of attention and funding afforded to it.
McClean’s own football upbringing was in the league of Ireland with his native Derry City. McClean togged out for the Candystripes 78 times scoring 18 goals. “My education was street football.” McClean adds that he wouldn’t change this for anything: “I grew up very quickly. I was playing League of Ireland football, which is very tough and physical, from an early age. That stood me in great stead for when I did go across (to England).”
McClean’s current confidence was certainly not generated overnight and he gives the impression he has worked long and hard to get his edge back. Bursting on to the Premier League scene in 2012 at the age of 23, the fresh faced northerner was full of direct running and energy. He admits himself that defenders soon sussed him out and his game had a dwindling impact in England. “You are playing against world-class players, they are going to suss you out, double-up, show you down the line, show you on to your weaker foot.” McClean’s work ethic was never in doubt however. His attitude is one of a true professional and he leaves it all on the pitch for his team. What he has worked on is developing his game and adding a bit more football intelligence: “now I’m learning more about the game, I’m more composed.”
Attempting to rationalise McClean’s rise in form, many reporters have pointed to O’Neill’s ability to get the most out of players down through the years. McClean himself recognises that Tony Pulis must not be overlooked in this regard “I’ve been lucky enough to play under a lot of very good managers, Tony Pulis is one of them. He has been great for me.” Pulis is clearly a fan of McClean who is close to guaranteed his place on the wing for the Baggies. You know what you will get with the Derryman, he will fly into tackles, track back, chase lost causes, take defenders on and even play through the pain barrier to represent his team. McClean admitted he received an epidural just four days before the Austria match: “I had an epidural on Tuesday at the hospital in Dublin. That really improved it. I managed to get on the pitch and play as long as I could.” If he maintains this new found composure to his game on a consistent basis then his wish to “score a few more goals (and) get a few more assists” should come true for both club and country. In the post Robbie Keane era Ireland will need greater output from their forward players and so far McClean is doing his bit.