Wednesday 26 October 2016

McClean pushed on by Derry drive

'Where I grew up we had to fight for everything'

James MClean in action for Ireland against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile
James MClean in action for Ireland against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile

It's not just music there in the Derry air.

There's an edge, a hunger, a drive, allowed to survive by years of being neglected and ignored. At least that's what James McClean thinks.

"It's just the Creggan mentality where I'm from. We had to fight for everything, like our identity, which is something we fight for every day," says McClean.

Whatever about his stances on political issues, like his refusal to wear the poppy or face the flag for God Save the Queen, he has proved that time and again on the field of play.

Like last week's friendly defeat to Belarus where McClean, and maybe Stephen Ward, were the only players in a green shirt who deserved any praise for what happened in that 90 minutes in Cork.

McClean took, and gave out, some hefty challenges in a game where he was clearly frustrated, with the winger insisting that this fighting spirit is in his DNA, from his birthplace. It's a common theme for Derry people. McClean's old boss at Derry, Dubliner Stephen Kenny, noted that sense of isolation early on his his first spell as Brandywell boss.

Not only were Derry City FC players completely ignored by Northern Ireland, Kenny pointed out, but Derry-born players in general were overlooked by a Belfast-centric IFA.

Just like the lack of funding for the main road from Dublin to Derry, issues like that annoy them in the north-west, but McClean's proud of his background, which comes out on the field.


"I think it's got a lot to do with where I grew up, where I was raised. Like many places we had to fight for everything but for our identity more than anything. So it comes naturally," he adds when asked to talk about his style.

"We have that fighting mentality, we give everything. I was an [Ireland] fan growing up as well so just sitting in front of the TV watching games when you were a young boy and things weren't going well, you'd be thinking 'if I could do this or I could do that'.

"Well, now I am in a position where luckily enough maybe I can do something about it. So I just try and give it my all. Not everybody's raised the same. Everybody's got different backgrounds, different cultures, different ways they were raised."

But does that mean McClean has to change his approach, back off from a tackle that's waiting to be made but which could yield a yellow card? "No, I think the way the game is now, you can't win either way," he says.

"If you're pulling out of tackles then it's 'he's not pulling his weight' and then when you do go in hard, it's 'he's a liability'.

"But if you're going into games thinking 'I can't do this, I can't do that', where's the fun going to come from," he says with a grin.

"I think the managers understand as well that aggression is a big part of my game. Obviously, don't be silly, but that's a given. They just try to encourage me to play my normal game. That's just what I do."


He's smiling now, McClean refreshed for today's training session in Dublin after a weekend break in Derry, with another break to come in the form of his honeymoon (McClean married Erin in Derry last month but his mí na meala has been postponed until after the Euros).

But smiles were rare in the aftermath of that loss to Belarus, where Roy Keane tore into the players for their displays.

Kevin Kilbane, among others, criticised Keane for his, well, criticisms but McClean took the barbs from the assistant boss.

"I thought his comments, to be honest, were spot on," says McClean of Keane.

"Not everyone can always have a good game but the bare minimum is that a player should put 110 per cent into his performance.

"You should come off the pitch, good game or bad game, saying: well, you know what, I gave everything. It might not have come off but least I can say I put 100 per cent in. So he was spot-on. I can only speak for myself: I'm here, I want to play and not just be happy to be here. I want to do everything I can to play as much as possible. So I thought he was bang on with his comments.

Older, wiser and more experienced than four years ago, McClean says he's heading for France in good spirits on the back of his club form.

"It's been great. I've had a satisfying season at club level, both personally and as a team," he says of the Baggies.

"I've been lucky enough to work with another great manager in Tony Pulis so I'm taking a lot of confidence into the Euros. I'm feeling good, I'm feeling refreshed and I'm ready to go."

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