As a training squad comprised almost entirely of Championship personnel was completing its three days’ work at Fota Island yesterday, Roy Keane said that he expects all these players will fly out to the States on Monday, along with goalkeepers Darron Randolph and Keiren Westwood.
But it was the news of McClean’s addition to the travelling party which caught the eye, since — along with very recent Premier League debutants Kevin Long and Declan Rice — the West Brom man would be the only other outfield player from England’s top-flight in the squad for the game in New Jersey against Mexico next Thursday.
While Martin O’Neill had previously signalled that he would allow most of his Premier League and regular first-choice players an end of season break before coming into camp for the friendly against Uruguay in Dublin on June 4 — which precedes the World Cup visit of Austria a week later on June 11 — McClean let it be known that he didn’t want to wait so long.
“James has not played loads of games over the last month or two and he feels there’s a benefit for him in going to America,” said Keane. “What he doesn’t know yet is he probably won’t get a game over there (laughs). But you’re not surprised. He’s always keen to join up. Obviously, the other players will join up when we get back from the States. But James spoke to the manager and said he’s keen to travel. And… we’re letting him (laughs).”
For all that McClean has kicked on at international level, Keane reckons there’s still more to come from the Derryman.
“James has matured nicely over the last year or two. He’s obviously started to add a few important goals to his game. But James McClean still has a long way to go. There’s plenty of (room for) improvement there. But he’s very passionate about playing for Ireland, very enthusiastic. But we also hope that James will improve as a player. And he’ll improve a lot more when he’s playing regularly in the Premier League. He’s probably not quite at that stage yet for one reason or another. Again, I don’t know the ins and outs at West Brom — and it’s none of my business, I suppose.”
While McClean, with three goals, is Ireland’s leading scorer in the current campaign, Keane was also at some pains to point out that — even though he has just the one international goal to his name — Daryl Murphy, when free from recurring injury, has contributed significantly to the cause.
“You look at our results when Murph has played and, I tell you, they have been pretty decent if you analyse it,” he said.
“And if he gets involved in the Austria game, if he plays up front, he won’t let us down. You want your strikers obviously to score goals but don’t underestimate what Murph has brought to the party with his overall game. He’s been a handful, been involved in a few assists. Of course, if Murph was standing here he would say that the goal (away to Serbia) was a big boost to him.”
The loss of Shane Long through injury has intensified the clamour in Ireland for a call-up for Cork City’s Sean Maguire, the striker who now appears to be on the brink of a move to Preston.
“We have looked at him, we’ve seen him live on a few occasions, he’s doing well and he has to keep doing well,” said Keane. “There is talk of him maybe getting a move and if that happens we’ll probably get more opportunities to see him. (He has) to keep doing the business, keep putting the ball in the back of the net and keep knocking on the door.
“I know we have Shane injured but there are lads ahead of him, people like Jon Walters, James McClean, who can play through the middle, and Daryl Murphy who has never let us down. There are good options there for us. We see Kevin Long coming into the squad at 26 — I’m not saying Maguire will have to wait that long but sometimes you have to be patient in this game.”
he commitment of Burnley’s Long — who is missing his brother’s wedding to be part of his first senior Irish squad — stands in contrast to the tensions in the Austrian camp, where coach Marcel Koller has made clear his anger that defender Andreas Ulmer is unavailable for a call-up, having set his wedding date for a few days before the match in Dublin.
“A strange one, maybe,” Keane smiled. “I think it’s happened before with other sports where lads have missed games because they’re getting married. Listen, everyone to their own.”
As for Long’s sacrifice — “But it’s not his wedding, is it?” Keane pointed out — the player himself has already said that the untimely clash was never going to be an issue.
“Well, it shouldn’t be,” said Keane. “I missed my sister’s wedding. She was getting married and I had a friendly with Man United. You miss these occasions — it’s par for the course. And his brother might get married again another time (laughter).”
In other news from the camp, Keane yesterday confirmed what was already well flagged: That James McCarthy’s hamstring problems have ruled him out of the upcoming games. Aiden McGeady also reported some muscle tightness, which was enough to keep him out of the Fota camp and trip to America, but Keane expressed confidence that the Preston man would be able to join up with the squad on their return to Dublin.