James McClean runs the gauntlet of players and staff on the occasion of his 100th cap. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
staying positive

'These lads will flourish and become the future of Irish football'

After celebrating his 100th cap James McClean insists there are reasons to be positive for Euro 2024 campaign, and beyond.

HIS BIG NIGHT began with a hug from President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and ended running through a gauntlet of honour from his teammates and staff.

James McClean knows all about taking the rough with the smooth over the course of a career that has seen him become a Republic of Ireland centurion.

“He just said that he was very proud of me, to be fair I’ve had a good relationship with the President over the years, which is obviously nice to have,” McClean explained of their embrace prior to kick-off.

“It was a touch of class.”

Sterner words were required among the Ireland players at half-time as they toiled against a Gibraltar side they were unable to break down.

“Just be more ruthless, move the ball a bit quicker,” McClean added. “Obviously the changes happened and Mikey [Johnston] made a big impact when he came on, I was delighted for him to get off the mark with his first goal.”

McClean admitted there was “a bit of anxiety going into the game” because of the nature of the 2-1 defeat to Greece in Athens on Friday.

president-of-ireland-michael-d-higgins-presents-james-mcclean-with-his-100th-cap President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins presents James McClean of Ireland with his 100th cap. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

That feeling extended to the stands at Aviva Stadium, where sections booed the players off after a goalless first half.

“There were a lot of young players in there so we could have crumbled at half-time, it wasn’t exactly the best reception coming off the pitch and rightly so, no disrespect to Gibraltar but we shouldn’t probably be coming off 0-0 at half-time,” the Derryman continued.

“As a player it’s obviously not pleasing but France beat them 3-0, Holland beat them 3-0. Of course it’s Gibraltar, I am not here bigging them up but it’s frustrating when you have 10 players behind the ball, it can be hard to break down but in the end we got the job done, it was comfortable.

We’re not going to put ourselves high up on a pedestal for beating Gibraltar but we know there is a lot of football to be played and we are up for the fight.

“Nobody likes being criticised, that’s the way it is. No one likes it but we’re not stupid, this is the game we are in, if you don’t perform and do well criticism comes along with that, as does praise when you are doing well. So you have to take the bad with the good, we bounced back, that’s all we could do [against Gibraltar],” McClean added.

“We could do no more than bounce back, it’s a massive win to take us into September and hopefully we can pull off one of those famous wins.”

A visit to France on 7 September is followed by a clash aganinst The Netherlands 72 hours later in Dublin.

McClean senses a vulnerability in the Dutch, who are level on three points with Ireland having played one game less.

james-mcclean-with-mohamed-badr James McClean in action on Monday night. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I have seen plenty of them, I don’t want to create headlines and be disrespectful but they seem to have a lot of very good individual players but maybe as a team they are not where they want to be and hopefully we can exploit that.

“I don’t think that’s something that can ever be questioned, the togetherness in the Irish team, especially from the day that I came into the set up.

There is always great camaraderie, it’s a special atmosphere within the camp. We had to be picked up off the floor last Friday because we had put so much in, had good preparation and just did not perform, but that’s football, that happens, especially with young players.

“Our job is to help become more consistent, and I feel these lads will flourish and become the future of Irish football for a long time. This is great for the confidence, there is a lot of ability in them young lads if you can get them playing with confidence you are on to a winner.”

McClean scored famous goals away from home against Austria and Wales but it’s going to take something extrordinary heading into the autumn.

“Big games, I actually think we perform better in the big games as you have seen here against France, we will see.

“If we can pass on any experience, those are nights that get talked about as they were special nights, the young lads in the squad are like sponges, they want to learn, which is a great trait to have as a young player.

“As senior players our job is to try and pass on them experiences and hopefully help them get those experiences for themselves.”

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