It appears there’s quite the mutual appreciation society developing between Mick McCarthy and James McClean.
As well as bringing to the party “his energy and his willingness to give himself to the team”, said the manager of the Derryman yesterday, “he’s a better player technically than I ever thought he was”.
“Whenever I’d seen him I admired him — and sometimes scratched my head as well when other things have gone on with him. But the first week we came in, he was nailed on to play in the team after the first three training sessions. He impressed me that much. And he is such a lovely fella. He gets a bad rap everywhere he goes but he is a great guy and he has a real positive influence on everybody. Whatever I have asked of him he’s been great, I’ve been really thrilled with him.”
And with McClean recently playing as an attacking left-back for Stoke City, McCarthy even feels the player has given him an additional defensive option in case of emergency.
“I’ve got seven defenders and I haven’t got a second left back,” he pointed out. “If I had a problem with Enda (Stevens) I’d play James at left-back. I could always call Greg (Cunningham) in, but if something happened to Enda on the pitch I would have no worries about James at all.”
For his part, McClean seems to be relishing life under McCarthy. Whereas, in the past, he thinks Irish teams might at times have suffered from an inferiority complex — “days of fear and giving teams too much respect”, was how he put it — he reckons the essential mindset of the returning gaffer is all about wanting to take the game to the opposition.
“I think the manager, from day one, has said, ‘just get after teams, press them high, impose us on them, and make them fearful of us’,” he said.
“Obviously when you play the bigger sides you’ve got to do your homework on how to stop them. But sometimes, maybe, at club or international level, that takes away from you imposing your game. But this manager, he just tells you to get after them, press them, get in your faces and make us horrible to play against.”
The winger admits that kind of approach is right up his street. “Of course. When you’re playing the so-called bigger sides and against the so-called better players you want to put it up to them and show them, ‘look I’m a good player and I want to pit myself against you’.
“So, yeah, maybe it gives you that extra little bit of motivation to get after teams and say, ‘we’re not fearful of you, we want to give you a game here’. We want them coming off thinking, ‘that was tough today, I don’t fancy playing them again’.”
Ultimately for McClean, it’s all about the end, not the means. “Have we ever been a nice-on-the-eye team,” he asked rhetorically.
“It doesn’t affect me. I only care about winning, no matter how. I don’t care if we’ve only 10% possession and we win the game by scoring an own-goal. Three points on the board is all that matters.
“Credit comes when you’re winning games. I’ve said it in the past — it doesn’t matter how we win. If you play good football and get beaten, you might be applauded but you’re sitting at home watching major tournaments.”
This week, Ireland’s call means McClean is getting a break from a Stoke side marooned at the bottom of the Championship and prey to all the doubts and vulnerabilities a brutal run can bring to bear on players.
Though not, it seems, McClean. “It comes down to the individual’s mentality,” he suggested.
“It’s tough, but I go into every game — win, lose, or draw the previous game — wanting to better myself. Some lads will feel sorry for themselves and they mightn’t handle the pressure that well. If you look around, if we go a goal down, the heads just sink. The weight of the world is on our shoulders.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are bad lads. They are a good, honest bunch of lads. But some maybe can’t handle the pressure as well as others and as a whole group we have to man up, take it by the scruff and get out of the situation we’re in.”
But whether top of the table with his country or bottom with his club, McClean always wants to stoke the fire. “I just take every day as it comes. I’ve got a job to do at Stoke when I’m there and I’ll do that. I’ll approach every game wanting to win. But then when I come away here, the focus on club level is put to one side and it’s about getting the best result and me putting in the best performance I can.”