James McClean says that while the possibility of the Republic facing Northern Ireland in Belfast in a decisive Euro 2020 play-off would be “the more exciting option”, the alternative of playing Bosnia away would mean “less hassle” for his family in the build-up.
Ultimately, the Derry-born Stoke City winger, who was capped at U21 level for the North, says it doesn’t really matter to him what play-off route the Republic take so long as they beat Slovakia and then the winners of Northern Ireland v Bosnia to qualify for the summer finals which will see tournament games hosted in Dublin for the first time.
“Me personally, (Northern Ireland) is the more exciting option but I couldn’t care less to be honest. As long we are qualified, it won’t matter. If you ask my family, they’d prefer Bosnia away, to be honest. For them, it’s less hassle, less hassle in the build-up.
“You don’t want side-issues taking away from the actual occasion. And what a huge occasion it would be. But once we qualify, I don’t care how and when we do it. For me it (NI) is the more exciting game but Bosnia away, the chance to qualify and play two games here, I think that’s what matters most.”
Disagreeing with the observation that the Republic’s qualifying campaign has been an up-and-down affair, McClean says he is confident that Mick McCarthy’s team are good enough to negotiate the two away play-off games in March.
“You say up-and-down campaign, I wouldn’t say that. We’d two very good teams in the group with us and we pushed them all the way. We drew 1-1 here with Denmark and you can say we were one goal away from automatic qualification which would have been great. It was a shame it wasn’t the case.
“I think the campaign has to give us confidence. No disrespect to Bosnia, Slovakia, or Northern Ireland but they aren’t as good as Switzerland and Denmark. We showed we can compete and that should give us confidence going into the play-off games.”
Along with the rest of his clubmates, McClean is enjoying a resurgence of form under Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill at Championship-side Stoke, with talk of a possible all-Ireland Euros qualifier so far confined to some good-natured joshing.
“I think in the last international break, he (O’Neill) joked that if that was the case he would make me do another 20k in training that week but, nah, I think that one is on the backburner, in the back of both our minds,” says McClean.
“Don’t worry, I’ve been analysing everything that we are doing to feedback to the camp (laughs). No, listen, he’s done a great job for the North and he’s doing a great job with us at the minute. You can see why. His attention to detail every day, it’s brilliant to see, it’s fascinating to see, and it’s obviously working wonders.”
McClean was speaking at the launch today of a new sensory hub in the Aviva Stadium which will be accessible to all fans attending matches including the upcoming Six Nations home fixtures.
Said McClean: “My two eldest kids love coming to see me play4, but for my youngest daughter, Willow, it’s a different experience. She doesn’t like crowds, or any very busy or noisy places. Football games, which are such a huge part of our lives, are quite overwhelming for her. A facility like the Aviva Sensory Hub will make all the difference for her and many other people with sensory needs when coming to matches.”