JAMES McClean is determined to banish the memories of Euro 2012 as he prepares to go to France with Republic of Ireland this summer feeling an important part of Martin O’Neill’s squad.
The Creggan native met up with the 33 man Republic of Ireland squad this week ahead of tonight’s ‘3’ International friendly game against Switzerland and Tuesday’s clash with Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium.
He joined fellow Derry men, Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers) and Eunan O’Kane (Bournemouth), at the FAI National Training Centre. And, while both those players are hoping to impress Martin O’Neill enough to book their place on the plane to France, it would come as a major surprise should McClean not keep his place in the squad for the opening Euro 2016 Group E clash against Sweden in the Stade de France on June 13th, having established himself as a key member of O’Neill’s squad during the qualifying campaign.
Going into the European Championships in 2012 in Poland/Ukraine, the then Republic of Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, selected McClean for the tournament but the Creggan man played just 14 minutes of a hugely disappointing campaign.
Indeed, McClean’s only part in the tournament was in the 4-0 drubbing by Spain in the final group game as a 76th minute substitute for Damien Duff with Ireland hopelessly chasing a 3-0 deficit at the time.
The defensive-minded Trapattonni received widespread criticism from fans and media pundits at the time for not giving McClean a bigger role in the group games and the winger claims the experience damaged his confidence.
This time is different. In 2012, I didn’t really feel part of the squad because I wasn’t involved in any of the qualifiers. I made a late push and got there but this year I’ve been involved in all the qualifiers and I can’t wait to get there now.James McClean
This year, however, he feels like he’s earned his place in the squad having played a huge part in the qualifiers.
At one point it looked like qualification was very much beyond them, so , when the Republic defeated Bosnia in a play-off he was delighted to get another chance to test himself against the best players in Europe.
“Looking back at the Euros in 2012, I went into the tournament at that time in the form of my life,” recalled the West Brom winger.
“That tournament shattered my confidence a lot after that because I felt I should have been playing. I ended up playing the last 15 minutes or so of the whole tournament.
“The man who picked the team didn’t see me as being in the first XI even though I believed I should have been. I didn’t always agree with the manager but I had to respect his decisions and that hit my confidence a bit.
“This time is different,” he stressed. “In 2012, I didn’t really feel part of the squad because I wasn’t involved in any of the qualifiers.
“I made a late push and got there but this year I’ve been involved in all the qualifiers and I can’t wait to get there now.”
Ireland face a tough task getting through the group stages in France with games against Sweden, Italy and Belgium.
But McClean has taken confidence from progressing from a qualifying group which contained world champions, Germany, and a Poland team spearheaded by prolific striker, Robert Lewandowski.
And he feels, with the character and never-say-die attitude of the Irish players, O’Neill’s squad will cause problems for whoever they come up against at Euro 2016.
And, of course, the 40,000 Irish fans expected to flock to France for the nation’s third ever appearance at the Euros, will also play a significant role.
“It’ll be amazing to think that there will be an entirecountry and, especially, my whole hometown behind me. Hopefully, I can make them proud,” he said.
“We have Sweden, Italy and Belgium so it couldn’t have come much harder than that. But in the qualifying group we had Germany, Poland and Scotland and then Bosnia in the Play-offs.
“But with this team especially, we get a lot of late goals and keep going until the end. So it’ll be hard for teams we’re playing too.
“Four years ago, the Euros shattered my confidence but I can’t wait to test myself against the best players in Europe.”