The Derryman had been Martin O’Neill’s saviour in this campaign to set up the winner-takes-play-off clash against the Welsh and his fourth goal of the series propelled Ireland into Tuesday’s draw.
Admitting he’ll watch the pairings in Switzerland with relish rather than trepidation, the prospect of getting to within 180 minutes of reaching the Russian showpiece is becoming more of a reality.
Euphoria was evident on the Cardiff pitch and in the dressing-rooms and the 28-year-old doesn’t feel the joyous scenes were premature, especially as belief outside the camp of them retrieving a play-off berth was scarce.
“It was a massive match to win, so I think we celebrated fittingly,” McClean explained.
“The defeat to Serbia last month hurt badly but we still had a very good chance of qualifying. The media wrote us off, giving the manager and players lots of criticism.
“It was a nice feeling to prove a lot of people wrong. It was kind of an added bonus on top of everything else.”
McClean also defended the team’s style, emphasising they’ve developed a strong record under O’Neill without delivery displays dependent on panache and finesse.
“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” he asserted. “We’re never going to be a team that’s going to pass teams off the park but we’re very hard to beat.
“We’ve only lost three qualifiers since the manager’s taken over.”
The proud familyman made sure to dash towards his wife Erin at the full-time whistle, their warm embrace generating pictures to dominate the front pages of Tuesday’s newspapers.
“It wasn’t something that I planned and the lads at West Brom gave me a bit of stick when I got back,” McClean told Newstalk’s Off The Ball show.
Meanwhile, Baggies boss Tony Pulis admitted he had mixed emotions about McClean’s international exploits.
The Welshman jested: “I just ignored him walking down the corridor.
“He said ‘morning’ with the biggest grin I’ve ever seen in my life. He won’t be playing for me for what he’s done for Wales!”
Pulis added on a more serious note: “James has most probably done better for Ireland than he has for us but that sometimes happens.
“I think we paid £500,000 for him and I don’t think anyone would say James has been anything but brilliant.”