Michael O'Neill: I would never criticise James McClean for turning down Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland boss has been relentless in his task of pursuing players but failed to convince the Sunderland winger to stick with his team
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has said that he would not criticise James McClean for choosing to play for the Republic of Ireland and stressed that he would speak with 'any player at any age level' in order to persuade them to play for Northern Ireland.

Since taking over the reins from Nigel Worthington, O'Neill has been actively encouraging players to opt for Northern Ireland at senior international level and has succeeded in persuading former Republic of Ireland youth internationals David McDaid Shane McEleney and Patrick McEleney to switch association.

"I deal with any player at any age level," O'Neill told the Derry Journal. "I will meet with that player and if necessary I will meet with his parents to outline why I believe they'd be better served to play for Northern Ireland.

"I took this approach with Shane and Patrick McEleney and they both agreed to play for Northern Ireland."

However, the former Shamrock Rovers boss failed to convince Sunderland winger James McClean that his interests would be 'better served' with the Northern Ireland team. Nevertheless, O'Neill conceded that the former Derry City player had 'every right' to make the decision to play for Giovanni Trapattoni's Boys in Green.

He continued: "I did the same with James McClean but unfortunately I wasn't successful. James had already made his decision before I was able to talk to him.

"James has every right to make his own decision and I would never criticise him for that. I'd hoped he would reconsider and play for Northern Ireland but that wasn't the case.

"It's part of football and you have to deal with it in a professional manner and move on. I have spoken to James subsequently and I have wished him well in his career," added the Northern Ireland boss.