McClean admits he's still haunted by Danish disaster

2018-02-21 22:38:09

James McClean has experienced some major highs and lows in the last 12 months.

For highs, his winner against Wales in the Republic of Ireland’s final World Cup qualifier group game will take some beating.

The Derry winger had the nation dreaming of a Russian summer with his wonderfully taken second-half strike in Cardiff which booked Ireland’s place in the play-offs.

It was a goal and a performance to savour from McClean whose drive and energy helped to lay the platform for that victory in Wales, a win which was overshadowed by what was to come.

Few will need reminding of what happened in that two-legged clash with Denmark. A credible scoreless draw away from home was followed by capitulation at the Aviva Stadium and a comprehensive 5-1 defeat to end Ireland’s World Cup hopes.

McClean was front and centre in the aftermath of that game, giving a frank and emotional post-match interview which endeared him further to Irish soccer supporters, and maybe even played a role in him being voted RTÉ Sports Person of the Year by the Irish public.

Three months on from that night in Dublin, McClean admits that the memories of that game still sting and for the midfielder, the only thing that will erase that pain is to qualify for another World Cup.

"It is difficult because that night hurt, it hurt deep for a very long time," he said. "The joy of club football is that there is always next week to put that right and get over the pain of it.

"In international football, that was back in November and we have to wait until March before we have another game.

"Nothing is going to put that right unless we qualify for World Cup, which will hopefully happen in my playing career."

Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign doesn’t get underway until next year with a series of international friendlies and the much-maligned Nations Cup all that Irish supporters will have to get excited about this year.

Nevertheless McClean sees this year as an opportunity for Ireland to rebuild and rediscover their confidence and prepare for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

"With wins, comes confidence and belief," he said. "We’ll try to get as many wins as possible and take that forward into the European campaign. When you step out onto a football pitch, you just want to win every game. That’s pretty much it."

Martin O’Neill will be the man to take Ireland through those Euro 2020 qualifiers after he finally cleared up the confusion surrounding his future by signing a new contract with the FAI that will hopefully see him through to the end of the European Championship.

McClean has a special relationship with his manager and fellow Derryman, with O’Neill handing him his Premier League debut at Sunderland and playing an instrumental role in his career and development.

It’s no surprise then to learn that the winger is pleased that O’Neill has committed his future to Ireland.

"I couldn’t be more delighted that he’s staying on," he said. "He has been great for my career, at club level and international. Not only that, he has been great for Ireland.

"I think his record is underrated because if you look at it, he qualified for the Euros from a very tough group. We got to the last-16 from a very tough group and we were narrowly beaten by France. One or two fine margins in that game and we qualify for the quarter-finals.

"He’s an unbelievable motivator. He makes you feel you’re the best player in the world when you’re going on the pitch.

"As a player, going on the pitch, knowing you’ve got the full backing of your manager to go and express yourself, there’s no better. [In terms of] His man-management, I’ve never worked with anyone better."

McCleans’ club West Brom could use a motivator like O’Neill at the moment as they currently find themselves in the midst of a relegation battle that looks increasingly fraught.

The Baggies are five points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table with games running out and manager Alan Pardew reported to have been given two games to save his job.

McClean has been a bit-part player under Pardew in the league, leaving him frustrated at times as he’s been forced to watch from the bench. He did however feature in the Baggies’ FA Cup victory over Exeter last weekend and he’s eager to hold onto his place in a crucial game against Huddersfield this weekend.

"It's been really frustrating, but I played on Saturday in the Cup, played really well, so hopefully I can get a start now on Saturday against Huddersfield as well," he said.

"I feel I'm at my best when I get a run of games. So far, that's eluded me this season. So hopefully now I can build on Saturday's performance, have another good game on Saturday , we get a win, and me as a player and us as a team take that confidence going forward to a crucial part of the season because we need wins and we need wins very fast."

James McClean & Stephanie Roche were in Dublin to launch Red Bull 5-a-side tournament Neymar Jr’s Five

That game against Huddersfield in the start of a run of games for the Baggies which McClean believes will decide his team’s fate.

"I think the next five or six games determine whether we stay up or go down, we need to start by beating Huddersfield on Saturday," he insisted.

"There’s no easy game in this league, far from it, that shows we’ve won three games all season. If you look at our squad on paper you’d say we shouldn’t be where we are but the reality is we are where we are.

"It’s up to us to turn that around and only we can do that but come Saturday I can’t stress enough that we need three points and anything less is a disaster."

James McClean was speaking at the launch of Neymar Jr’s Five, Red Bull’s unique five-a-side football tournament for men and women, To participate in the regional qualifiers this February, teams of five to seven players must register at www.neymarjrsfive.com

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