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Friday 21 September 2018

Duff believes McClean needs to play on edge but tone it down

The Republic of Ireland’s James McClean (c) slides in during a training session at Abbotstown this week.
The Republic of Ireland’s James McClean (c) slides in during a training session at Abbotstown this week.

One name, that of Mr Christian Eriksen, dominates the talk around the Denmark camp in the lead into tomorrow's World Cup play-off.

And one figure in the Ireland squad also comes to the fore when the Danes look at us, indeed when we look at ourselves.

James McClean was namechecked by no less a figure than Eriksen when he was asked about the most impressive player in the opposing camp, and both Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill spoke at length earlier in the week about the impact that McClean can have on a game, as well as how the "red mist" can descend on the Derry man, leading him into unwise acts.

Damien Duff rarely troubled referees during his 100-game spell as an Ireland player so he was one of the good boys. Duff sees a bit of the divil in McClean and while he admits that McClean's reactions can be a cause for concern, Duff feels that the West Brom man would, Samson-like, lose part of his game if he held back.

"He is affecting games and that's what big players do. That's all you can ask," says Duff.

"He looks like a different animal playing for Ireland. It means so much to him, along with the rest of the lads.

"But you can argue if he loses that edge, is he the same player? He scores a great goal and then he's giving away stupid free-kicks in the last five or ten minutes against Wales. But that's a side of the game if he lost it maybe he wouldn't be the same.

"It's a bit like (Wayne) Rooney, I don't think he's the same now, maybe because of legs or maybe because he has lost that edge. You don't want James ever to lose it, just maybe to tone down his decision making with those types of free kicks.

"But at the same time, when the team isn't doing well he gets people off their arses and he gives the team momentum. Not with classic wing-play but by absolutely bulldozing into a 50/50 tackle. Things like that. I don't think you want him to lose it, really."

McClean was seen as something of an intrude by some squad members when he burst onto the Ireland scene in 2012, no time in the youth or U21 teams with the Republic to learn the ropes of international football, learning how to fit in (McClean had, of course, been involved with Northern Ireland's U21s).

Stephen Hunt admitted a while back that he was also unsure of McClean's attitude. "I do not mind admitting that there was a time when I was not sure whether McClean was the right person to have in the team," Hunt said in his Sunday Independent column last month.

Lunatic

"Now I am convinced he is an out-and-out 100 per cent lunatic who has become an integral player, and one of the first names on Martin O'Neill's team-sheet. He does things that defy belief. He runs around, he tackles and he is obsessed with playing for Ireland - to the point where he is not in control of himself when he is playing."

Duff was one of the senior players, in his last few months of international football, when McClean came in in February 2012.

"Yeah, he was a breath of fresh air. I'm not sure whether he had his Twitter account then," says Duff with a smile.

"Listen, he was young, naive, maybe not a lot between the ears at times. He was obviously starting to earn money and he was going out and spending it in Poland, buying anything and everything - Gucci here and new cars when he was back at his club.

"But listen, that's why the likes of John O'Shea has looked over him over the years, and Séamus Coleman and the squad.

"All the lads love him, he's a top pro. He is up and down. You can see away from the pitch he lives his life well, he doesn't drink or anything like that. He's important and he is affecting games for us."

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