JAMES McClean refuses to take anything for granted in what’s developed into a highly competitive Airtricity Premier Division this season.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
But while he’s been happy with his performances to date and, of course, those of his team-mates, the 22-year-old Creggan Heights man believes that any of the top six or seven teams are capable of winning the Premier Division title.
With cross-Channel scouts now regular visitors to both the Brandywell and other venues where Derry play, McClean opts to ignore speculation linking him to a move without any official approach despite claims that his progress is being monitored.
On Friday night last, one scout from Burnley, tracked the player’s performance against Bohemians, regularly jotting down notes on how the winger had dealt with certain situations, but for McClean that’s all speculation and he doesn’t wish to comment until he is officially approached.
“I’ve heard the rumours and while they are flattering, I don’t really get involved. I just try to play to the best of my ability in every game I play and contribute as much as I can,” he answered.
“Obviously, I have my own personal ambitions and like any other player, I’d like to test myself at the highest possible level. However, until something concrete happens, my total commitment is to Derry City and I’m determined to play my part in our challenge for the league title this season,” added the midfielder.
“For us it’s very much a case of one game at a time and no one at the club is getting carried away as we appear to have surprised quite a few with our results and our performances this season.
“Every game in the Premier Division is a tough game and I’m delighted with our current position now that we’re about to enter the second half of the season.”
Frustrated at having to miss the opening four games of the current campaign and, indeed, having to sit out the St. Pat’s match due to suspension, McClean insists that every team is capable of overcoming everyone else.
“I think it’s very competitive and results have proved that. I’m really enjoying my football at the moment and everyone at the club has been great. We have a good dressing room with every player working in the same direction and that has to be a good thing.”
The left-sided midfielder has netted seven league goals so far, plus one strike in the League Cup campaign and while he certainly enjoys scoring, he feels it’s equally important to play his part in assisting others to score.
And that certainly was the case in the 3-0 win over Bohemians, McClean providing two assists to help Gareth McGlynn and Eamon Zayed get onto the score sheet.
“Scoring goals is a bonus for me but, at the end of the day, my main priority is to help the team. It’s also about winning and getting good results and that’s what I’m focused on at the moment,” he declared.
Having graduated through the Brandywell club’s reserve team set-up, McClean made his competitive senior bow against Bohemians on July 1st, 2008 and, just for good measure, he opened his scoring account that night at the Brandywell.
Since then he’s made a total of 82 appearances, scoring 18 goals but his statistics this season are, by far, his best to date.
But there has also been disappointment for the affable local man, who has been capped for N. Ireland at Under-21 level.
Having performed well at that level, he felt he had a chance of a call-up to the senior squad for recent Carling Nations Cup ties which were staged at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
“I honestly felt that not just me, but a few of the players at Derry City would have been good enough to be called into the squad after so many senior players had dropped out.
“However, the manager opted to select players from Irish League clubs instead. Personally, I believed that Gerard Doherty, Shane and Patrick McEleney, or even myself, had a chance of getting called up as we had been playing well with Derry at the time but we were not considered.”
Would he be happy to represent N. Ireland with so many other players from the North-West area opting to represent the Republic?
“International recognition is very important to most players. I thoroughly enjoyed playing for the Under-21s and, therefore, any call-up to the senior squad would be considered an honour.
“Yes, I was disappointed that a few of our own players didn’t get called up for recent squads, but I’m not breaking my heart or anything like that.
“I just felt that with the controversy surrounding other local players who have opted for the Republic, one of us at the Brandywell may have had a squeak of getting in, but that didn’t happen.
“However, my focus is with Derry City and I can’t afford to dwell on international disappointments. I’m totally committed to my home town club and, just like the rest of the lads, I want to be involved in any success we can achieve this season.”
Now looking forward to this evening’s clash against Sligo at the Brandywell, McClean can’t wait for kick-off.
“We owe Sligo one as they have beaten us twice this season already. I thought we were very unlucky in the first game when they scored late on after we missed a penalty. I didn’t play in that match, but I was involved at the Showgrounds which was a total disaster for us. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in that match. Up until the first sending-off, I felt we had done well but then everything seemed to go pear-shaped.
“But we learned from that lesson and moved on and now that we’re back at the Brandywell again, I think it’s important that we get a good result on Tuesday and that’s what we will be aiming for.
“A win on Tuesday night would make it very interesting at the top of the table. It would put us right back into the mix and give us a great confidence boost as we try to push on and try to win the league title,” he concluded.