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Tuesday 18 December 2018

'I want to play at the highest level' - McClean

Irish ace dealing with effects of tough season with Baggies

ONE OF THE BHOYS: James McClean fulfilled a dream by playing at Celtic Park last weekend
ONE OF THE BHOYS: James McClean fulfilled a dream by playing at Celtic Park last weekend

An appearance at Parkhead, in the Ireland shirt, gave Celtic supporter James McClean a taste of what it would be like to play there, regularly.

It is a dream for the Derry native to go on and play for the Hoops, though not as some sort of tribute act at the end of his career, he points out.

But McClean admits that he could be on the move again this summer as a consequence of West Brom's relegation from the Premier League.

The 2017/18 season was a difficult one, on all fronts, for McClean. Ireland missed out on the World Cup finals with that heavy loss to Denmark in the playoffs.

At club level he struggled to get game time, as he started just 14 Premier League games and scored just one goal for the Baggies as they were relegated.

Moves

Things picked up for McClean under Darren Moore at the end of the season, as he was out of favour under Alan Pardew, and the fact that Moore has been appointed as manager for next season could see McClean (29) stay on, though he could be linked with moves over the summer as Burnley and Derby both tried to sign him during the season.

"Of course I have ambitions of playing at the highest level because you want to be the best you can be as a footballer," McClean says, trying not to let relegation distract him from the two games ahead with the national team.

"I've another year left on my contract. We'll see what happens over the summer. I've got two games to focus on, two games I want to do well in. That's my only focus.

"Sometimes it happens, clubs might get a bid that's too good to turn down. Or another club will offer you a deal that's, vice-versa, difficult for you to turn down. We'll see what happens.

"I wanted to leave in January and made no secret of that. I told the manager and chief executive at the time that I wanted to go because, with the move to Burnley in August, I was disappointed that didn't come off. At the time though I was playing so I figured 'alright, it's not too bad'.

CLOSE CALL: Ireland’s James McClean (right) in action against
Celtic’s Jack Hendry during Scott Brown’s testimonial at Celtic Park last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
CLOSE CALL: Ireland’s James McClean (right) in action against Celtic’s Jack Hendry during Scott Brown’s testimonial at Celtic Park last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

"As soon as the window closed, for some reason I got dropped and didn't play a game until Alan Pardew came in. I was playing more but playing once every three games.

"Then the Derby thing came about. They were second in the Championship at the time and I wasn't playing as regularly as I'd liked. I wanted to leave but the same thing happened; the club saying that I wasn't going anywhere. The usual, you're vital, but as soon as the window closed, I didn't play again.

"It was a difficult season in that sense. I had two good opportunities to leave for regular football but they denied me both teams and don't play me. As you can imagine, it was very tough.

"Then Darren Moore came in and made me feel like a footballer again. I can't thank him enough for that."

Sunday in Parkhead did bring some joy for McClean, who was warmly welcomed by Hoops fans.

"Of course, growing up a Celtic fan myself and getting a reception like that at Celtic Park off the Celtic faithful, it was a special feeling. Whether I get the opportunity to play here as a Celtic player or not, that will be something I will always keep with me and treasure," he says, eager to play for the club but not the way Roy Keane did, well into his 30s.

"I think them days are gone when players are seeing out their career and coming here for the romance. I've just turned 29, I feel great, if the opportunity comes it would be a very difficult one to turn down. I've never hidden that.

"If it was up to me, I'd have been a Celtic player a long time ago. For one reason or other over the last few years, it hasn't been for the want of trying, but hopefully one day."

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