Between a lack of game time at West Brom and the vilification he routinely receives from the stands and on social media, the Premier League must sometimes feel like a cold house to James McClean.
By contrast, he is always assured of the warmest welcome when he turns up on Irish duty, not least from Martin O’Neill.
A big admirer of the player, the manager had his tongue deeply embedded in his cheek yesterday as he relayed an exchange he had with his fellow Derryman on foot of that wild tackle on Huddersfield’s Tom Ince on Saturday.
“That was frustration,” he observed. “He has gone 70 yards to lamp the lad, hasn’t he? And missed him, apparently, according to James. He has just told me he missed him. I just said, ‘James, what about the intention, intention is now part of the game. The fact that you might have missed him…had you hit him you’d probably have put him over the stand.’
”McClean has been great for us. He just has to channel that frustration — and he is frustrated at the moment I think from a lot of things, obviously not getting into a side that is not winning some football matches and maybe he thinks that he should.”
McClean also made clear at the weekend his annoyance with Match Of The Day for focusing on the tackle but not recording its aftermath: According to the player, he was pelted with bottles, coins and lighters.
“Things have been thrown but things are thrown at James most weeks so you just have to cope with it,” remarked O’Neill.
Of course, at this time of year McClean finds himself in the firing line in England mainly because of his opposition to wearing the poppy. Asked if he thinks the player is wise in maintaining his principled stand, O’Neill replied: “I think that’s a question that you would have to ask James. I think that you would have to ask him. I know where James comes from. And I have got the utmost regard for James, as a person as well, absolutely. James, honestly, (he’s) fantastic. And the great thing is he knows is that he will come here and the crowd love him. And quite rightly so because of what he has done for the team.
“Really in this World Cup qualifying campaign, we could not be without him.”
Of course, feeling that love doesn’t necessarily mean the red mist entirely deserts McClean while on international duty.
“I told you before,” said his manager, smiling again, “was it the Poland game where he came on as a sub and even Roy Keane said to him ‘just be careful’. And he acknowledged the fact that he would be careful — and 30 seconds later he has just ‘done’ the fella. But James has said he has learned from that, he’s learned to take longer than 30 seconds before he lamps somebody.
“On a more serious note, he plays with a real heart and the Ireland thing means so much to him. He just needs to be a wee bit more careful, not just with Ireland but at club level. He can see a bit of red mist sometimes and he needs to just cool down, cool it for a second. Listen, we have the utmost regard for him, as a person, as a player, the utmost regard. I think James just needs to get himself right here, just calm down.”
And especially since McClean is one of 10 Irish players on yellow cards going into the first leg of the World Cup play-off against Denmark, a reality not lost on Martin O’Neill.
“We need him in these two games,” he said.
In injury news, Jeff Hendrick (glut) has emerged as a new concern though O’Neill sounded hopeful that the Burnley midfielder would pull through.
“Jeff came off after about 60-odd minutes (on Saturday), he was having a bit of a problem and he’s still a little bit sore at the moment,” said the manager. “He’s said he’s improving so that’s good news. If the game was tomorrow morning he might struggle but he’s pretty hopeful and the medical team are hopeful.
“In terms of Stephen Ward, it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on his knee. It needs a little bit of rest now and then. I’ve got no real problem with that. If we have to walk through some situations rather than just do them as normal for the players in the next day or so, we’ll do so.”
Injuries have already ruled out Richard Keogh, James McCarthy, and Sean Maguire while David Meyler is suspended for the first leg in Copenhagen on Saturday.
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