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Monday 18 December 2017

McClean focus is on south of the border only

James McClean. Pic: PA
James McClean. Pic: PA

James McClean says he'd like to see Northern Ireland at the World Cup finals in Russia next season - but only if the Republic of Ireland squad can make it there as well.

McClean, who captained the Republic in the recent friendly defeat to Mexico, has strong links with the North as he won seven U21 caps for that side before his 2011 defection to the Republic.

He played for the North's U21s alongside current members of Michael O'Neill's senior panel like Corry Evans, Ollie Norwood and Shane Ferguson, while Northern Ireland stars Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt are club-mates at West Brom.

Michael O'Neill's side are faring well in the World Cup qualifying campaign, in second place in Group C, five points behind runaway leaders Germany but an impressive four points ahead of the third-placed Czech Republic.

"It'd be brilliant to have the north and south of Ireland in the one tournament," McClean said.

"It brings a sea of green and a lot of noise. But I'm only worried about if we get there. I don't care about anyone else."

With Germany so far in front, Northern Ireland will have to settle for second place but McClean feels that the Republic can close in on top spot and avoid the play-offs.

"I'd rather finish top of the group to be honest and not go through the play-off route," McClean told the Derry Journal, while on a visit back to his native city to launch the Foyle Cup schoolboy tournament.

"It's in our hands and, if we win our four games, we'll be top of the group no matter what.

"If that's the case, that we get the play-offs, to finish first or second in this group is some achievement because it's a tough group. So we'll fear no-one. But, first and foremost, let's try and get that first spot," added McClean.

The West Brom man has now won 52 senior caps for the Republic since his decision to leave the Northern Ireland set-up, and one player who is expected to make the same call and leave the North is Derry City man Aaron McEneff. The former Spurs player has played for the North's U21s but may move south.

"I know Aaron, he's a good lad," says McClean.

"It's wherever your heart lies, it's as simple as that, without getting too much into it. It's about following your heart and going with whatever you're comfortable with."

Aaron's brother, Jordan, was recently named in the Republic's U16 squad for a friendly tournament.

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