James McClean will welcome Declan Rice back into the Republic of Ireland squad with open arms should the West Ham United player opt against a switch of allegiance to England and stick with the Boys in Green.Quite the change of tack.
Kevin Kilbane was highly critical of Rice’s indecision when Martin O’Neill first revealed the teenager’s second thoughts back in August, tweeting that he would rather see Ireland ranked 150th in the world and never qualify for another major tournament than have Rice back in the fold.
“Bang on lad.. representing your country should be an honour and a proud moment,” was McClean’s response on the social media platform.
It was a highly notable contribution to the debate at the time given McClean’s profile.
That was then. And now?
McClean was reluctant to discuss the Rice saga at first yesterday but the Derryman’s directness on the pitch has always been reflected off it.
And his opinions when he finally opened up were honest, measured, and understandable.
Martin O’Neill had previously revealed that McClean had been in contact with Rice after the initial news broke but the Stoke City midfielder was keeping the details of that conversation private while admitting again that the situation is far from ideal.
He was nothing if not consistent. On that and on Harry Arter’s situation.
His first and last instinct was to dismiss Arter’s catfight with Roy Keane as nothing, a “healthy” blowing of lids in a game where the pressures regularly bring such things to the boil.
The press, he said with a smile, have a habit of stirring these pots for all they’re worth.
A combustible character himself, McClean claims to have never had a run-in with the Ireland assistant manager. The most annoying aspect of the whole affair, for him, seemed to be the leaking of Stephen Ward’s WhatsApp voice message.
All of which would be dismissed as PR talk were it another player. But this is a man who has had his Twitter password changed and concealed by his wife such is his disregard for bullshit and smokescreens. Arter’s decision to opt out of the Ireland squad last month simply didn’t sit well.
“You’d have to put a gun to my head for me not to come and play for Ireland,” he said.
“Everyone is different. I don’t mind the tough approach. I like to think I’m capable of giving it back myself. I don’t mind a rollicking. I’ll take that. It will take more than a rollicking to stop me from playing for Ireland.”
As with Rice though, McClean has already filed that away. Water under the bridge, he insisted and yet the incident appears to have touched a nerve with a player who is clearly miffed with the need these days to tiptoe around everything and anything on both sides of the white lines.
Peter Crouch has recently highlighted a culture in the modern game of young players who are social media climbers rather than ambitious footballers eager to progress up the career ladder and McClean gets where the striker is coming from.
McClean touched on the perception that some prefer to stay at top clubs where they can earn big money and big themselves up without playing rather than make the move down the divisions with a view to getting first-team football and building a career of worth.
He spoke of a hunger for flash cars and nice watches and of pampered players who prioritise Instagram likes.
It’s far removed from his experiences starting out in the League of Ireland when he took ice baths in bins and walked to and from training in the teeming rain.
This Ireland squad has its fair share of new faces. Some have followed McClean’s path from domestic servant to English League. Others started their careers across the water. What are we to make of them? Has the modern culture infected them too?
“Obviously the old guard now has kind of left the squad,” he said. “This squad is not as young as you think. There are a lot of 24 and 25-year-olds and in football that’s not really young. But it’s definitely a different squad.
McClean does his bit to keep those traditional values alive.
He fractured his left wrist whilst training with the Republic in Dublin early last month but was back playing for Stoke City within four weeks despite the advice from his surgeon that another bit of time off the field would be the wiser course of action.
The joint is still protected by a long soft cast — a green one, of course — and his early return to action is to be welcomed given the difficulties O’Neill’s side had in Cardiff in his absence and the speculation over the manager’s suitability to continue in the role due to results on the pitch of late and events off it.
“Speculation from who? You guys? Maybe you should write the truth in terms of his record. It’s pretty good to be honest.
“Sometimes when we’re not doing well you thrive on it a bit more. Maybe you should give the man the credit he deserves.
“He’s the right man for the job, 100%. The last couple of games didn’t go well but look at us qualifying for the Euros and being one game away from the World Cup. So we had a good Euro 2016, they’re competitive games there.”
Honest, direct and unapologetic: It’s good to have him back.
By Liam Mackey – Irish Examiner