The Derry-born 22-year-old promptly responded to the news with a delighted tweet: “Absolutely buzzin’ and honoured to be called up to represent my country... best feeling there is.”
Derby County’s Paul Green, who was ruled out of most of the European Championship qualifying campaign through injury, has also been added to the squad which, in the absence of any fresh withdrawals after the loss of Richard Dunne, now numbers 26.
The surprise about McClean’s call-up is that only last week, at the original squad announcement in Waterford, Trapattoni said this last friendly game before May was not the time to take what he called calculated risks.
Instead, he said, he planned to stick with the squad which had got Ireland to the Euro finals, meaning fringe and new players would — barring injury to first-choice personnel — have to wait to stake a claim until the World Cup qualifiers begin next Autumn.
However, in the interim, that serious injury to Dunne has seen the manager turn to the uncapped Shane Duffy of Everton and now comes the news that McClean — who has become one of the most talked about players in the Premier League since Martin O’Neill took over on Wearside — has also been added to the panel.
“Marco [Tardelli] and I have decided to call up James McClean and Paul Green to take a closer look at them during training,” Trapattoni said last night.
“Paul is returning from injury, and James is performing very well for his club. We have invited them in for this game to spend time with the squad and get an idea of the team setup.”
However belated, McClean’s call-up has been universally hailed, the positive reaction summed up by former Irish internationals Mick Martin and Phil Babb who were both in Dublin yesterday when the news broke.
One of Trapattoni’s scouts — he’ll be going to Malaga to watch Spain play Venezuela at the end of this month — Martin has monitored McClean’s progress since his transfer from Derry City, watching him first in Sunderland’s reserves and then in the first team, and all the while sharing his thoughts about the player’s development with the Irish management.
“James has come a long way in a short time,” he said.
“He’s got what good wide players have. He wants the ball and when he gets it he’s just got one thing in his mind: he wants to attack people. He can cross the ball, he’s got an eye for a goal and he’s very fit and strong and agile. I’m delighted to see him get the opportunity because he’ll certainly be an asset to us.
“He doesn’t look as if he’d have any fear about the step up judging by the way he’s been playing since Martin [O’Neill] gave him the opportunity. You can see him looking for the ball all the time and that’s an admission of confidence.
“Those who don’t want it kind of hide behind the full back.
“He’s totally different. But good wide players always have that and he’s the tailormade wide player. He reminds me of Chris Waddle as a young kid. I played with Chris at Newcastle and he was like that: gangly, tall, wanted the ball, great skill. Raw but when you get them raw and see them excited about being in the team, you enjoy watching them play.”
Phil Babb, himself a late addition to Jack Charlton’s World Cup finals squad in 1994, reckons McClean also has what it takes to make an impact if given a chance at the Euros.
“I think everyone was kind of surprised by his omission anyway because of the form he’s in,” said Babb. “I’m a great believer in picking players on current form. A lot of managers have faith in players who have shown it in the past and hope they can re-ignite that going into a big tournament. But here is a player who’s tearing up the Premier League at the moment. And even if he didn’t play in the finals, I would still take him.
“I think he adds a different dynamic. Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff are good technical players but they haven’t really taken games by the scruff of the neck lately. We’ve had good results in the qualifiers but I don’t think they’ve been impact players. And I think McClean can be an impact player, either coming off the bench or from the start. Playing for Sunderland, he has certainly made us all think: ‘wow, what a player.’”
nPhil Babb and Mick Martin were speaking at an event to promote ESPN’s coverage of the Newcastle United v Sunderland derby at 11am on March 4. For further details of the channel’s Premier League and Clydesbank Premier League fixtures see www.espn.ie.