KEEPING his mouth firmly closed until 3.30 p.m. yesterday, proved to be a significant challenge for Sunderland’s delighted left-winger, James McClean.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
The 23-year-old received a telephone call yesterday morning from interntional boss, Giovanni Trapattoni,informing him that he had secured a seat on the plane bound for Poland for next month’s European Championships.
And while the Creggan Heights man was jumping for joy, he was told to keep it quiet until the official announcement was made during the afternoon in Dublin.
“The manager rang me to tell me I was in his squad for the Euros and I couldn’t believe it when taking the call,” declared James.
“He asked me not mention it until the official annoucement was made, so for someone who likes to talk a lot, it was a bit of a challenge for me to keep my mouth shut for a change,” laughed the winger.
“Obviously I’m over the moon. It’s yet another dream come true for me and this selection caps what has been an absolutely fantastic year for me so far,” maintained the player.
McClean’s £350,000 transfer from Derry City last August saw him initially languish in the Sunderland Reserves panel until December.
However, following the sacking of Steve Bruce and the subsequent appointment of Martin O’Neill, one of the new manager’s first decisions was to grant the Derry lad his debut within weeks of his arrival.
James was thrust into the Premiership against Blackburn Rovers and having turned that game in Sunderland’s favour, the 23-year-old has never looked back.
In fact, he celebrated his 23rd birthday with family and friends in a Derry nightclub a few weeks ago (April 22nd) and he also viewed his call-up as a belated birthday present.
“To have joined a Premiership club from Derry City and then make my debut for Sunderland was absolutely fantastic,” he continued.
“But to then make by international debut in the Aviva Stadium in February in front of so many people was also very special. But I was then voted Sunderland’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ which was yet another great personal boost and now this.
“Selected onto the Irish senior squad to play in the European Championships has really capped what has been a fantastic year.
“Thankfully everything has gone really well for me on the football front and I think it’s important that I thank everyone at Sunderland who have been very supportive,” maintained the local man.
James also heaped praise on manager, O’Neill who, he said, had guided his career since presenting him with that debut against Blackburn.
“The gaffer has been tremendous to me. He presented me with my opportunity to play in the first team and I think I took full advantage of that. He’s kept me on the ‘straight and narrow’ since then and has helped me improve as a footballer.
“I try to work hard on my game week in and week out in order to improve and I think that has worked for me. Martin O’Neill’s appointment has certainly boosted my confidence levels and I can’t thank the man enough,” continued James.
“To be called up to represent Ireland has always been a personal dream of mine and to be associated with players whom I have watched and admired is also very special. Now I can’t wait to join up with the squad and start to focus on the Championships.”
Before that, however, James faces the final game of the 2012 campaign when Manchester United visit the Stadium of Light this Sunday.
A lifetime fan of the “Red Devils,” James watched the Old Trafford game from the ‘away’ dugout on a day when a Stand in the Theatre of Dreams was named after Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I’ve always been a big United fan and, naturally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be selected to play in the final game. While I’m thrilled at being selected for the Euros, I hope to focus my attention on the visit of United this weekend and then prepare for whatever comes my way afterwards.
“I’ve got a seat on the plane to Poland, that was always the first priority. Now it’s all about repeating what I do at Sunderland at international level and, hopefully, get a chance to play in a game or two.
“It’s been a fabulous year for me for so and, fingers crossed, let’s hope it’s not over just yet,” he concluded.
James will join up with the Irish squad in Dublin on May 17th next for the opening training session.
James will join by Everton’s Darron Gibson and former Derry City keeper, David Forde, in the squad which certainly gives local football fans something to watch out for when the Euros kick-off next month.