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'It would be a sea of green' - McClean on prospect of Ireland and Northern Ireland qualifying for World Cup

The 28-year-old maintains his number one priority remains Ireland’s qualification for next summer’s World Cup and no-one else’s.

Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

JAMES MCCLEAN ADMITS it would be a ‘sea of green’ in Russia next summer were both Ireland and Northern Ireland to qualify for next summer’s World Cup.

Ireland came back from a goal down against Austria on Sunday evening to secure a point which leaves Martin O’Neill’s side as they were joint top of Group D.

The West Brom midfielder has displayed numerous outstanding performances this campaign, scoring three goals inside the side’s opening five games, including a decisive winner in Vienna back in November.

Were Ireland to secure qualification it would the country’s first World Cup in 15 years, having failed to qualify for the last three competitions in Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

McClean admits it would be no less than a dream come true to represent his country on the international stage.

James McClean with Stefan Lainer McClean tackles Austria's Stefan Lainer. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“To get to a World Cup – that is the pinnacle of world football,” he said speaking to The Derry Journal.

“The Euros is great but to get to a World Cup is something pretty special. Come Russia next year – hopefully – we are getting excited about going out there and testing ourselves against the best.”

McClean admits Ireland were disappointed not to take all three points following a resurgent second half display against Austria at the Aviva Stadium, stating his view that Shane Duffy’s late goal should have stood.

“We’re still in a strong position. Overall we didn’t play well in the game, we know that.

“We came on strong towards the end of the game and got the equalizer but we are obviously disappointed with the last goal (scored by Duffy). People can make of that what they want. For me it’s a perfectly good legitimate goal.

“In that sense it’s disappointing and leaves a bit if a sour taste, but we are still joint top of the group, all of the results went our way. We’ve four games left and we know what to do. We just have to go out and do it.

“It’s all in our hands. We want to top the group no matter what. If we get the play-offs, to finish first or second in this group is some achievement because it is a tough group. We’ll fear no-one but first and foremost is trying to get that first spot.”

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Asked about the prospect of both Ireland and Northern Ireland qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, McClean said it would be a similar carnival atmosphere to last summer’s European Championships when both nation’s made the knockout stages.

He maintains, however, that his priority is on Ireland’s qualification and no-one else’s.

“For the North and South of Ireland to be in the one tournament brings a sea of green and a lot of noise”, he said.

James McClean celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game McClean celebrates his winning goal against Austria last November. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“But I’m only worried about if we get there. I don’t care about anyone else if I’m being honest.”

Michael O’Neill brought Northern Ireland to their first international tournament since 1986 when they qualified for last summer’s European Championships in France.

The country has qualified for three World Cups in its history, reaching the quarter finals twice, in 1958 and again in 1982.

Stuart Dallas scored a 92nd minute winner to take all three points against Azerbaijan on Saturday for Northern Ireland, meaning O’Neill’s side sit comfortably in second position four points ahead of third-placed Czech Republic.

They remain five points behind runaway leaders Germany in Group C on 18 points, but are on course to finish second and secure a play-off.

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Aaron Gallagher

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