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'I've been picked for every single squad I've been available for, which is something I'm very proud of'

James McClean looks set to captain Ireland against Ukraine tonight, as he inches closer to his 100th cap.

James McClean speaking to the press in Lodz, Poland ahead of the Nations League game with Ukraine.
James McClean speaking to the press in Lodz, Poland ahead of the Nations League game with Ukraine.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Jun 14th 2022, 8:30 AM

JAMES MCCLEAN WILL win his 94th Ireland cap against Ukraine tonight and he will likely do so as captain, with the leadership group of Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, and John Egan all missing. 

McClean kept shtum when asked if he would be captain at yesterday’s pre-game press conference, with Stephen Kenny interjecting with a joke, “Absolutely no chance!”, a gag that only works if McClean is indeed going to be captain. 

“I think Dave the chef will get it before I get it”, smiled McClean. 

What shouldn’t be in doubt is his starting place tonight. Replacing the out-of-sorts Enda Stevens, McClean was outstanding in the victory against Scotland, winning and delivering the corner from which Ireland scored their first goal. He is also ticking toward cap number 100, which would catapult him into rarefied company alongside Robbie Keane, Shay Given, John O’Shea, Kevin Kilbane, Steve Staunton, and Damien Duff as Ireland’s only centurions. 

“Every cap is special no matter what age you are”, said McClean. “That’s the way it has always been for me anyway. You are representing your country, putting on the shirt. It is a special feeling. It doesn’t matter if it is my first cap or 150 it is still a special feeling. I think that’s the way it should treated.

“I’ve been very lucky that for ten years now I’ve been picked for every single squad I’ve been available for which is something I’m very proud of. The 100th cap? Again that depends on a lot of things, all the things I’ve just mentioned there: form, being picked, injuries etc. If it’s to happen, it’s seven games away and a lot can happen between now and then. Nah, look, as the old boring cliche goes, it’s one game at a time.” 

McClean works harder than most to keep himself fit. He ended the League One season with two separate injuries, hurting a thigh muscle on the final day having fought back from a knee injury sustained weeks earlier. Stephen Kenny speaks with a kind of awe when addressing McClean’s fitness regime, describing it earlier this month as “incredible” but unconventional. “His training regime is not one I’d maybe recommend to all the young players coming in”, observed Kenny. “It’s not always conventional.” 

“I love my boxing”, said McClean. “So I do a lot of boxing. I enjoy the gym work as well. It’s my release, [from] whatever pressures or frustrations I have. It’s a way for me to release all that. I’ve taken up boxing which I’ve enjoyed. That’s a bit of a passion of mine. That goes hand in hand with that, and doing something I enjoy.

“I’d train all day if my wife would let me! Unfortunately, I’ve three kids and she nags me about going to the gym. I’m lucky that I’ve a nice gym at home so it’s not like I’ve to leave the house to go to the gym. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. It’s right there. It’s stuff I’ve done all through my career, it’s served me well. At this stage, I don’t think there’s any point in changing now.” 

Sitting beside McClean, Kenny chipped in on the topic. “I’ve known James for a long time, managing him as a young player [at Derry City], even when I took over as manager of the senior team I thought James was losing half a yard.

“He had a foot injury at the time, it was tough for him when he was at Stoke, I thought that James maybe, he could still be effective, but he was on a decline. If anything he’s got quicker over the last year and it’s down to this rigorous training regime that he has.” 

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james-mcclean-talks-to-giovanni-trapattoni-as-he-comes-on-for-his-debut McClean making his debut under Giovanni Trapattoni in 2012. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

McClean has experience many of his team-mates don’t have, and spoke from that perspective when addressing Ireland’s struggles in their opening Nations League games, back-to-back defeats against Armenia and Ukraine only partially atoned for in victory against Scotland. 

“These little setbacks can sometimes be a good thing. It’s nice when you’re going well and you’re getting pats on the back and you’re being told you’re brilliant and this and that. But sometimes you need that little reality check and over the last two games we probably came in expecting to win both games and we haven’t and it’s probably given lads a little bit of a reality check. We have to earn every win and show up and perform. We did that on Saturday and bounced back pretty well.” 

He looked to the future too, with the prospect of become the first Irish player to appear at three separate European Championship finals on the horizon in 2024. 

“I feel very fit. My body is in good condition and I look after it. I feel fit and as hungry as ever. As long as that is the case I will keep going.”

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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