McClean typifies the guts of the Irish fighters with winning goal against Wales

ShareClose Comments
The West Brom winger takes plenty of flak but continually rises above it in an Ireland shirt and is fast becoming a vital fixture for his country

It’s not quite poppy season yet but James McClean is already in the headlines. This time it's for his profession but it still means abuse.

No one Premier League player is subjected to so much hatred as the Ireland winger. It only takes a cursory search of his name on social media to weed out the death threats and deep-rooted disdain held towards the Derryman by a very vocal minority of British football fans.

Ireland 200/1 to win World Cup

His brilliant goal against Wales last night – which put Ireland forward to the World Cup 2018 playoffs – was the catalyst for the latest abuse. One tweet would say how much McClean was detested, a second would inevitably bring reference to the fact he doesn’t wear a poppy in November.

There is a vast – and probably irreconcilable – disparity in what the angry hordes see in James McClean and what fans of Ireland see in him.

He is adored.

James McClean Republic of Ireland celebrates 12112016

McClean is never going to purvey the type of football to have the likes of Pep Guardiola purring but he typifies exactly the qualities Irish supporters demand as standard. This is the kind of team to contest 58 aerial challenges in one match as they did here against Wales. That is a record for any European World Cup qualification match according to Opta.

It is football that cannot survive half-heartedness. The Irish are not British but they play football in what is seen as the traditional British way. If the commitment isn’t optimum – from everyone – then they haven’t got a prayer. Ireland have to tackle harder, run further and faster, compete for every ball no matter where it is on the field. And no one player does it better than McClean.

But not only that, he has found a way to be effective. Everyone loves a trier but McClean is not only a cult hero. He has scored four World Cup qualification goals in this campaign to become Ireland’s top scorer. All four goals have been scored in the second half of away qualifiers. Three have been winners. He is responsible through his goal scoring for nine of Ireland’s 19 points. Those are big goals from a big player who always wears his heart on his sleeve.

There is a glorious defiance to the manner in which Ireland grabbed their playoff place. Martin O’Neill’s team looked out of it after a draw against Georgia and a defeat to Serbia in the last international break. But they don’t quit. They never know when they're beaten. 

Last Friday’s humdrum victory against Moldova preceded the real standout performance of this campaign. Wales have been undefeated at home in qualification matches since September 2013 – a run of 10 matches. Ireland were deprived through injury of their best player – as the Welsh were – with the absence of Seamus Coleman. Also out was talismanic forward Jon Walters. But still they got the job done.

England players – Harry Kane aside – often fail to replicate their best club form for their country. Ireland are the opposite. How often will we see players like David Meyler or Shane Duffy commit to their clubs in the same way as they do in an Irish shirt?

James McClean Ireland 12112016

James McClean Ireland celebrate 06092016

There is something in the relationship in the stadium between Ireland’s fans and their players that seems to give everyone an extra 15 per cent. Irish fans respond when they see a player giving it all as McClean proved with one massive tackle on Aaron Ramsey.

They can be quite a moany bunch when it comes to style of football and team selection before and after games but when the whistle blows they are totally focused on getting the best out of their players. When McClean and his cohorts celebrated the goal created by Jeff Hendrick in front of the 3,000 in attendance they seemed to be communicating directly with the individuals in the crowd. Thanks for the support. McClean feeds directly off it.

Article continues below

Ireland have had better and more talented players but McClean has a quality that could be bottled up and sold for a million pounds. Ireland players routinely have to play above what you would assume is their natural ability. There is a togetherness and intensity to their play that lifts them far above teams of more-or-less equal standing. Like Wales.

Without Gareth Bale Wales are a timid opposition. They try to cultivate their positive, possession-based football but without him it lacks punch. It implores teams like Ireland to contest 50-50s and clean up at the back. Shane Duffy – McClean’s great friend and fellow Derryman – was probably man of the match for doing just that.

Ireland live to fight another day and will be present in the playoffs around Remembrance Sunday. For sure you’ll read what plenty of certain British football think of him. But he’ll have another chance to win people over with his football too. 

Next article:
Man Utd team news: Rashford starts for Red Devils against Benfica in Champions League
Next article:
FIFA 18 Ultimate Team of the Week: De Gea & Thiago lead TOTW5
Next article:
U17 World Cup: Brazil 3-0 Honduras: Silky smooth Selecao surge past Los Catrachos
Next article:
Red Star Belgrade vs Arsenal: TV channel, stream, kick-off time, odds & match preview
Next article:
Champions League 2017-18: Fixtures, results, tables & all you need to know
Close