JAMES McCLEAN admits his emotions almost got the better of him as a sold-out Aviva Stadium paid their respects to his friend, the late Derry City captain, Ryan McBride on Friday night.
McClean was determined to keep his emotions in check and deliver a performance against Wales which typified the ‘passionate’ characters of his late friends, McBride and Martin McGuinness, who both passed away last week.
However, as he held his daughter Allie-Mae proudly and stood for the Irish national anthem with his head bowed, the Derry man was clearly feeling the effects of an emotionally draining week.
The Creggan man, who wore the No. 5 shirt to commemorate his former Derry City teammate, won the ‘man of the match’ award for his gutsy, passionate and yet controlled display against the Welsh and he was delighted to put in a performance ‘worthy of both men’.
Welsh skipper, Ashley Williams handed President Michael D. Higgins a special No. 5 jersey bearing McBride’s name and number in a touching tribute before kick-off while the stadium erupted into applause on the fifth minute.
And McClean was clearly fired up for the game as his no-nonsense challenge on Real Madrid superstar, Gareth Bale raised the atmosphere a notch or two.
“It was definitely a week which was high in emotion and not the good emotions,” said McClean afterwards. “Having lost Ryan and then Martin, who I also had a very good relationship with, within the space of a couple of days, it hit the town and myself hard.
“But that’s nothing compared to how hard it hit the two families. It was definitely hard from a personal point of view. All week, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to go out and ensure I put in a performance that would do both of them very proud. I wanted to put in a performance which typified both of them as obviously they were both great fighters. It was something I wanted to do, I wanted to play with passion and pride and put in a performance which would be worthy of both of them. Hopefully I did that.
“I was definitely feeling emotional during the anthem with my wee girl in my arms and the minute’s applause. It actually got the better of me at one stage.”
McClean paid his respects to the families of McGuinness and McBride during a break from Ireland camp last Tuesday and while he wasn’t permitted to attend the funerals on Thursday, he was happy he got to pay his own tribute on the pitch.
“I’ve been ridiculed in the past for being someone who has a short fuse and who can dive into rash tackles,” he said. “In some quarters I’ve been described as a liability so I tried to keep my emotions in check in the right way. I didn’t want to go out after five minutes and empty someone and get sent off to have everyone saying, ‘typical James, the emotions got the better of him’ and what not.
“I wanted to make sure I dealt with my emotions in the right manner and in a dignified way and put in a performance worthy of what the two lads were which was two passionate fighters.
“Everyone’s tributes were lovely but it’s important now to let the two families have their time to grieve and cope with the loss of two great men.
“It would’ve been nice to end a very difficult week with a bit of positivity and a win but it just wasn’t to be. A minor shining light was that I got man of the match and it was pretty special given the week that it was.”