James still hurt by loss to the Danes
Irish winger determined to get over World Cup play-off disappointment
Four months on from the humbling by Denmark and James McClean still carries a sense of regret at missing a glaring chance to put Ireland two goals up in the play-off.
While the final score of 5-1 to the Danes places an indelible blot on the four-year tenure of Martin O’Neill, McClean doesn’t allow himself to forget a pivotal moment in the return leg at Lansdowne Road.
A goal ahead on the night and on aggregate through Shane Duffy’s early header, the West Brom winger then raced clear of the Danish defence only to drag his low shot wide of Kasper Schmeichel post.
The tie was soon shifted on its head, the visitors equalising seven minutes later before Christian Eriksen made it 2-1 heading into the interval and leaving Ireland with an insurmountable task.
The nature of international football means McClean and his team-mates have a lot of time to fill until the competitive fare returns in September and even the scheduling of a few friendlies against Turkey next month, followed by meetings with France and USA in the summer, can’t erase the memories of the November disaster. One particular moment rankles most.
“If I was to do it all again against Denmark, I would have scored at 1-0,” reflected the Derryman yesterday. “I had the chance but put the ball wide.
“They’re the little things you look back on. That would have been 2-0 and maybe the game would have been over.
“That goes through your mind a lot. The night happened the way it happened; it hurt them and it will hurt for a long time. But we can’t keep dwelling the past, we need to put it right going forward.”
That pain would be eased by the 28-year-old figuring at his third European Championships in a row, especially as they’ll have home advantage for at least two of the three group game at the 2020 showpiece, but not entirely until he gets to grace the greatest show on earth.
He’ll be 32 by the time the Qatar-hosted World Cup comes along in 2022, yet determined enough to see himself still around competing for a place in the side.
“I want play as long as I feel I can compete at that level, or until the manager decides not to pick me,” he explained.
“If I can play in a World Cup for Ireland that would just cap the lot. The Euros are special but the World Cup is what you dream about, that’s the pinnacle of football.
“Also, I’m on 57 caps so getting to 100 caps would be pretty special as well. As long as I stay fit and perform, then those pair of aims are realistic.”
Where he’ll be operating at club level then, or even next season, is uncertain. Only nine of his 26 appearances this term for the bottom-of-the-table Baggies have been starts and he was subject to a failed €10m bid from Derby County in the final hours of the January transfer window.
Should the promotion-chasing Rams swap places with his current club, then West Brom may lower the €17m price tag they placed on his head last month.
He said: “It (the Derby move) was on the cards but it didn’t happen and I can sulk but at the end of the day. However, I have a job to do at West Brom, helping us avoid the drop.
“When you’re at the bottom of the table and another week goes by, you’re always telling yourself you’ve got next week. But we’re seven points adrift now running out of next weeks.
“The only way we’re going to turn things around is by everyone pulling together, putting in the graft and getting ourselves out of this rut.”