The Irish Football Association (IFA) have expressed their disappointment at James McClean’s recent comments about his time in the Northern Ireland set-up.
McClean represented Northern Ireland up to U21 level but rejected a call-up to the senior squad under Nigel Worthington and later declared his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland, as allowed under a FIFA ruling.
A superb start to his Sunderland career saw him earn a quick call-up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad and he will be heading to Euro 2012 with his new teammates at the end of the season.
But he is a controversial figure among Northern Ireland fans after declaring he had used the IFA youth teams as a “stepping stone”, had always supported the Republic and that he felt Catholic players were made to feel unwelcome at Windsor Park.
McClean’s suggestions that he felt ostracised by the conduct of some Northern Ireland fans, as well as the use of God Save the Queen as the pre-match anthem, led to him receiving death threats on Twitter and the closing of the player’s account.
Yesterday, the IFA put forward their side of the story.
“The Irish Football Association is disappointed by the comments made by James McClean in today’s media,” the statement read.
“The Irish FA’s strategic vision is to foster, develop and promote football for all throughout Northern Ireland. The Association has a very successful ‘Football For All’ programme where the main objective of the programme is to make sure that the sport of football is welcoming and inclusive to all members of our society in Northern Ireland and we will continue to drive this initiative forward.
“We pride ourselves with the fact that all Northern Ireland international football teams — both past and present — have always involved players from all sections of the community.’’
Meanwhile Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill has advised McClean to keep his own counsel amid brewing unrest over his decision to represent the Republic of Ireland.
O’Neill said: “It didn’t exist in my time, but it is something that has cropped up now, the possibility of playing for either side, and that’s something that James has done. He has been on twittering and he has been doing that for some time. He has been given advice in closing the account down, so at least that’s gone. He is going to get some sort of a reaction to it from somewhere, but I am not so sure he should be reacting to the reactions, as it were. Whether it’s the end of it or not...but at least the Twitter account has gone.”
McClean had not even made a senior appearance for the Black Cats following his €435,000 summer move from Derry City when O’Neill arrived in December.
However, having made an instant impact as a substitute in the manager’s first game, he has produced a string of fine performances to not only establish himself as a regular in the Premier League, but also book himself a ticket to Poland and Ukraine.
The midfielder will meet up early with the Republic squad next week with manager Giovanni Trapattoni planning to use the time to put him through his paces on the right wing as well as his more accustomed left, and O’Neill could hardly be more delighted.
He said: “It’s funny you should mention that because I said to James in training that I wanted him to go and play a wee bit in the fashion of someone like Damien Duff so he has the ability next season to play on either flank, and that would be great. If Trapattoni uses him in that fashion, that will be great. It will save me the bother.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved