Get McClean on that plane! O'Neill makes case for starlet's place in Ireland Euro squad
22:00 GMT, 25 March 2012
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill has urged Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni not to overlook winger James McClean for his Euro 2012 Finals squad.
The 350,000 summer signing from Derry City has been a sensation in his first 15 Barclays Premier League appearances under O'Neill, since making his debut as a substitute in O'Neill's first game in early December.
He made his Ireland debut last month to huge emotional acclaim in Dublin but before and afterwards Trapattoni insisted McClean was 'for the future' and he would stay loyal to players who took an Irish squad back to a major final for the first time in 10 years.
Impact: James McClean has made a splash since his introduction to the first-team
Stephen Hunt, who has not started a game for Wolves while McClean has been terrorising Premier League right-backs of all experience and ability, comes to mind.
On Saturday McClean destroyed former England full-back Luke Young, playing a part in all three goals and scoring his fifth since his dramatic arrival against Blackburn Rovers.
After highlighting his man of the match performance, Match of the Day pundits Alan Shearer and Lee Dixon both said they expect to see McClean in Ireland's three Euro 2012 games against Croatia, Italy and Spain. Trapattoni's final words on the subject in March were that `a young player has to be very good'.
O'Neill said: 'My personal view, and of course I see him every day, is that I see no reason why he can't make the squad.
'The last time the Irish coach saw him was the West Brom game and it wasn't the best for us all round. But James is hard to ignore.
Pick him: Giovanni Trapattoni (left) at the Euro 2012 draw
'And to be part of the squad I can understand the manager Trapattoni thinking, he has done wonders to get them through and of course you want to show loyalty to the players that got them there but if there is a space there I think James should take it up.'
O'Neill has brought in his former winger Steve Guppy to mentor the 23-year-old, who was rewarded with a new contract last week. Of course it is early days but there were signs already that McClean is adding variety to his relentless energy and enthusiasm.
It is thanks to Sunderland scout Pop Robson's persistence that O'Neill is now benefitting from McClean's decision to turn his back on Wigan and Peterborough to join Sunderland. His predecessor Steve Bruce, urged on by former chairman Niall Quinn, also paid the initial 350,000 to Derry.
His defensive work is also impressive, and will be a major tick in one of the demanding Trapattoni's boxes, and O'Neill is delighted with the impact he has made.
O'Neill said: 'James does the defensive work. It comes naturally to him. He will get back for you willingly. It is a great sight when you are playing left back to have him in front of you. What a relief you must get as he will always come back and help you out.
Backer: Martin O'Neill has high praise for McLean
'You would think with the energy he puts into the game and the effort he puts in to get back he would get tired, but he just keeps going. But I don't think he wants to rest up at the moment as he is enjoying himself so much.
'His confidence is up. He feels as if he can beat a lot of full backs. He has already come up against some really good players. Sagna is probably as good as any right back and I thought he gave him a really tough time and he can only get better.
'He has made himself a major player here. We didn't really have anybody of that ilk at the football club and certainly don't possess anyone as good as him. Maybe that is why he is playing every week. He gave Luke Young a really tough time.' McClean meanwhile admits he is still pinching himself after a whirlwind first six months in England.
Two years ago his dream of becoming a Premier League footballer looked in tatters after he returned from a trial with League Two Lincoln City because he was homesick, and because Derry were eager to re-sign him after they had returned to the top flight of Irish football.
Now he has Poland and Ukraine in his sights, plus the small matter of a Wembley appearance in the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
McClean said: 'I'm pinching myself, because it's going so well. A lot has happened in the last few months, but I knew that if was given a chance I would give it a good go and do as much as I can to stay in the team.
'When I first came over, the manager said to me “just work hard and try and get your debut” but things have happened a bit quicker than that. Hopefully the next few months will be even better again.
Shift: McLean is not afraid of hard work
'The manager has given me a lot of confidence just by selecting me, but I'm also really enjoying my football and I feel I can continue.
'I've grown up watching the Premier League week in week out and you just dream of playing here. I'm relishing it, just enjoying every moment.
'I watched the Cup finals from being no age right up to last year. Just to be involved in that this year would be a miracle, a dream come true.
'My hero was the Brazilian Ronaldo, the striker, and being a massive United fan, Ryan Giggs as well. All my friends ask what it's like to be on the pitch with your heroes and whether I'm overawed, but I'm not actually. I just take things as they come.
'They're just human like me. Being a Man United fan, I had to come here and have my first day in the changing room with Wes Brown and John O'Shea and you think “wow”, but you're not fazed by it.
'The players give you more respect if you're not star-struck or anything like that. You've got to earn their respect on the training pitch as well.'