Monday 18 December 2017

James McClean: I'm just focused on the job at hand

Republic of Ireland's James McClean
Republic of Ireland's James McClean

THE WOES of Wigan will be very much to the back of the mind for James McClean once Sunday's clash with Poland comes around.

While some of the Polish players surf on a wave of enthusiasm thanks to some good form with their clubs - three Polish players stand a very good chance of winning a European trophy this season - the Derry native is in the middle of a battle with a very different aim: avoiding a slide down into the third tier of English football.

Throughout our football history, players have been able to put aside club problems to deliver for the national team, like Jason McAteer becoming a national hero in 2001 with that goal against Holland while he was an outcast at his club.

So can McClean, who has a decent chance of starting (if fit) against Poland on Sunday, put aside his club problems with the relegation-threatened Wigan?

"Of course, that's not a problem," he says.

"It's not been the best season but coming here is a privilege and you just look forward to that straight away. You put your club situation behind you.

"Obviously when I go back to Wigan I'll put this situation behind me. It's just the way it is - you focus on the situation at hand," added McClean, who says the club's problems won't eat into his confidence while on Ireland duty.

"I see myself as a focused person. I take each game as they come and I'm just focused on the game on Sunday. Hopefully I'm selected and hopefully I can give a performance if that's the case," he says.

McClean has been a key man for Wigan this season and it's an indictment of their strikers that winger McClean, with six goals, is their leading scorer, though he has been used as a centre-forward on occasion.

"I'll call a spade a spade, it's been a terrible season," he concedes.

"There is no getting away from that. We have a chance to stay up so we have got to make sure that we treat every game like the old cliché, like a cup final.

"That's just the way it is. Hopefully we'll have a good week here and I can go back and take that into the club form as well, because it is going to be needed."

McClean's first encounter with Poland was not a memorable one as he was a very unhappy camper during Ireland's trip there for Euro 2012

Later meetings with the Poles were happier: he played in both friendlies since 2012, the 2-0 win in Dublin and the 0-0 draw in Poznan, while there was even a Polish angle to the player's most recent success internationally (McClean scored in the 4-1 win over the USA which was refereed by a Polish official).

But Sunday in Dublin is different. "It's a massive game. It's a must-win," he says.

"Considering we lost the last game to Scotland, this is a must-win game. There is no beating around the bush, it's as simple as that.

"Especially with it being at home, we need to pick up as many points as possible here. So Sunday is a crucial game. Hopefully we can put on a show and pick up the three points.

"They've got a few world-class players like Lewandowski. They have a lot of top-quality players and they are going to be dangerous. But we have got a lot of quality players ourselves who can be dangerous. Hopefully our squad can come out on top come Sunday."

"We're joint second with a few teams and Poland are on top of the group. If we win on Sunday we go level with Poland and hopefully a few other results go our way as well. Teams are going to take points off each other and we have to make sure we don't drop as many as the rest. Our home form is going to be crucial. We want to be winning our home games, starting on Sunday."

Of course it's not guaranteed that McClean will start on Sunday. Martin O'Neill is a fan of the ex-Derry City man, but McClean has started just two of the qualifiers so far, the facile win over Gibraltar and the let-down away to Scotland.

And it will be in O'Neill's mind that three of his potential starters out wide (McClean, Aiden McGeady and Robbie Brady) have all been carrying injuries of late, though McClean's is more recent and he was unable to train at Lansdowne Road yesterday.

"I'm just giving it an extra few days' rest. All should be fine. I've just got some bone bruising in my foot, which should hopefully clear up and I should be able to train come Friday," said McClean, who could fill in at left-back for Stephen Ward if needed.

"If I'm asked to play anywhere, I will," he laughs.

"Anyone will say that. You just want to be in the starting line-up. I'm sure if you ask anyone if they are selected, regardless of where it is, they will take it. If I'm called on to play left-back, I've played there before so why not?"


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