'The media in Ireland is just as bad, if not worse, as the media in England for getting a kick out of us not doing well'

James McClean staunchly defended Stephen Kenny and his team-mates ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Serbia.

James McClean during Ireland's draw with Azerbaijan.
James McClean during Ireland's draw with Azerbaijan.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

JAMES MCCLEAN DISMISSED the criticism and speculation swirling around Stephen Kenny and his Irish team ahead of tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier with Serbia, saying neither he nor his manager pay any attention to it. 

With no competitive wins yet under Stephen Kenny – a winless run of 15 matches when it is stretched back to include the end of Mick McCarthy’s tenure – and just a single point from four World Cup qualifiers thus far, Ireland’s campaign is dead in the water. Failure to win tomorrow night will mathematically kill the campaign, and a couple of newspapers this morning claim Kenny’s job is under threat if a first win is not delivered against Serbia. 

McClean was asked about those reports at today’s pre-match press conference. 

“Where is that coming from? Do people know inside information that we don’t? People like to speculate and have an opinion. Funny enough the ones that have the bigger opinions have never kicked a ball in their life.

“Unless that’s come from the FAI themselves, from headquarters, then I won’t pay any attention to that and I’m sure Stephen won’t either.”

“It’s always difficult when you’re not winning games”, said McClean when asked to evaluate Ireland’s position in the wake of the draw against Azerbaijan. “I don’t want to use a cop-out and say it’s a transition period because I would say that’s easy to cling on to. We need to start winning games.

“You could say we have young players coming through and what not but we are here now and we need to stand up, every single one of us, and start being counted and that comes with winning games. We have another chance to do that on Tuesday. We have to start winning games, it is as simple as that.” 

Kenny’s team is young, with five of the starting XI on Saturday 22 or under, and McClean says it is the responsibility of the senior players to support them and help them block out the noise. 

“Yeah, we just have to rally round them and tell them to pay no attention because, funny enough, the media in Ireland is just as bad, if not worse, as the media in England for kind of getting a kick out of us not doing well.

“It’s a shame really but as senior players we have been around a long time so we know how it works so we just have to tell the young players that it is part and parcel of football and to pay no attention.

“People are fickle so start winning games and you are the best in the world again. We need to start winning games again and when we do the criticism goes away.”

“Like I said, you’ve got young players out and I don’t want to use it as a cop-out”, continued McClean when asked about what specifically he has found OTT about the latest round of criticism of manager and team. 

stephen-kenny-passes-the-ball-to-james-mcclean Stephen Kenny hands McClean the ball during the Azerbaijan clash. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But these lads, this is their first time playing international football, this is a manager in his first time in international football, we are going a different path to what Ireland teams have produced in years in terms of style of football.

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“Not even that, you take into consideration the whole Covid thing, this is the first time these young lads have even played in front of crowds, and that spurs you on alone.

“So, obviously I’d ask for patience with him but football, it’s cut-throat, the media’s harsh and I ask for a bit of patience but when you’re not winning games, it falls on deaf ears, and I can understand that.

“Everybody’s fickle. Especially in football, everybody’s fickle.

“It turns pretty quickly. Like I said, I’m not even talking about Stephen’s era, I’m talking about managers before. I go back to Martin O’Neill, that World Cup campaign was a fantastic campaign under the very last game and then the daggers and the knives were out after the 5-1.

“I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is madness…this is astonishing, actually’ considering the group we were in and how close we came.

“Like, after Wales [win in 2017] we were brilliant, we were unbelievable, nobody could speak highly enough of us.

“But after Denmark it was a complete over the top reaction and I think that’s always going to be the case.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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