The Irish Football Association has expressed its disappointment at James McClean’s recent comments about his time in the Northern Ireland set-up.
McClean represented Northern Ireland up to Under-21 level but rejected a call-up to the senior squad under Nigel Worthington and later declared his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland as allowed under a FIFA ruling.
A superb start to his Sunderland career saw him earn a quick call-up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad and he will be heading to Euro 2012 with his new team-mates at the end of the season.
But he is a controversial figure among Northern Ireland fans after declaring that he had used the IFA youth teams as a “stepping stone”, had always supported the Republic and that he felt Catholic players were made to feel unwelcome at Windsor Park.
Windsor Avenue has launched a series of initiatives in recent years to encourage cross-community football teams, and although McClean is not alone in declaring for the Republic, a handful of the current senior squad – including Celtic pair Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn - are Catholic, as is new manager Michael O’Neill.
McClean’s suggestions that he felt ostracised by the conduct of some Northern Ireland fans, as well as the use of 'God Save the Queen' as the pre-match anthem, led to him receiving death threats on Twitter and the closing of the player’s account.
Today, the IFA put forward their side of the story.
“The Irish Football Association is disappointed by the comments made by James McClean in today’s media,” the statement read.
“The Irish FA’s strategic vision is to foster, develop and promote football for all throughout Northern Ireland. The Association has a very successful ’Football For All’ programme where the main objective of the programme is to make sure that the sport of football is welcoming and inclusive to all members of our society in Northern Ireland and we will continue to drive this initiative forward.
“We pride ourselves with the fact that all Northern Ireland international football teams – both past and present – have always involved players from all sections of the community.
“All our programmes – from grassroots football and our centres of excellence, to our girls and women’s football and disability development programmes – each and every one has always been cross community, promoting ’Football For All’.
"The Association runs many successful grassroots programmes and the numbers participating in these programmes and representing Northern Ireland at all age groups / levels and from all communities, continues to rise.
"The Irish FA will continue to develop our very successful and wide range of ’Football For All’ and community programmes in the areas of grassroots, domestic and International football."