James McClean: Ireland and Derry City jerseys mean 'more to me than anything else ever will'

JAMES McClean says the Republic of Ireland and Derry City jerseys mean 'more to me than anything else ever will' as he prepares to represent his country for the 103rd and final time in Tuesday's international friendly with New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium.
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Stephen Kenny will hand the Creggan man his final cap in what's expected to be an emotional send-off for the former Derry City winger who had played under four different managers across 11 years for Ireland since making his debut on February 20th 2012.

The 34 year-old proud centurion, who has scored 11 goals and played in two European Championships for the Boys in Green, admits it will be a 'sad' occasion when he pulls on his cherished green jersey for the final time and promises to do it as much 'justice as possible' when he lines out for the final time.

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"It means everything," said the Wrexham winger. "The Ireland jersey along with the Derry City jersey, it's a jersey that means more to me than anything else ever will and tomorrow night for the last time I'll pull it on.

James McClean will represent Ireland for the final time in Tuesday's international friendly at the Aviva.James McClean will represent Ireland for the final time in Tuesday's international friendly at the Aviva.
James McClean will represent Ireland for the final time in Tuesday's international friendly at the Aviva.

"When I say that out loud it's obviously a bit sad that's going to be the case. But tomorrow night when I pull it on, I'll do what I've done 102 times before and try to do it with as much pride and as much justice as possible because there's no more special feeling than pulling on the green jersey and representing your country.

For me now is the perfect time to step away. I've no regrets about that."

While it will be his final farewell to Ireland supporters, he insists he has no plans of hanging up the boots just yet with plenty to offer his club.

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And with no international football to fill his summer holidays any longer, he's promised his wife, Erin and kids a trip to Disneyworld next year as Ireland fill the calendar with friendly fixtures.

"I feel grand," he insisted. "I've no plans to hang up the boots anytime soon. I'll savour Tuesday and then I promised my wife and kids, because I haven't had a summer off in a long time, so we're going to book Florida, go away for a month and enjoy Disneyland."

Ireland boss Kenny recalled watching McClean in the Derry City U18s at the Brandywell Showgrounds before giving him his opportunity with the first team and the Dubliner described his achievement of going on to win 103 international caps as 'absolutely phenomenal'.

"Not many players go out on their own terms. James is doing that now," said Kenny. "I remember seeing you in the Showgrounds in the U18 team and you came into that team at Derry very excited," said the Ireland manager as he addressed McClean at the pre-match press conference.

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"You came into the team when he sort of had a rule when we went to the First Division that time that everybody had to be within six miles, the whole team was from within six miles of the city. It was very strong that period."

"That was one of the most special times in my career because we were all young and we were all mates," said McClean as he cut in. "It was basically playing football with all your mates. We would go out on Friday and put teams away and then go out that night. That was obviously a special time. It was a local team. We were all best mates having the time of our lives. We played with so much freedom that the manager gave us and we got promoted. We were probably very unfortunate not to win the league the season after," he recalled.

"That's because we sold you in the August window and it was too late to replace you," added Kenny. "To go on and get 103 caps then is absolutely phenomenal."

The Ireland manager confirmed McClean will start the friendly fixture with 'The All Whites' tomorrow and praised the player for his 'fortitude and mental strength' and the longevity and success of his career with the national team.

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"James will start tomorrow for sure. He's had longevity in his career. Obviously I had the pleasure of giving James his debut when he was a young player at Derry City. He had tremendous determination and went on to play for Sunderland and the variety of clubs he's played for. He had huge fortitude and mental strength and great levels of skill as a left winger.

"He was very direct and had a high number of assists and goals for a winger. Always worked tirelessly for the team and then had to adapt in his career. Some people fade away from top level football because age catches up with them but he adapted and became a left back or left wingback and had that ability to adapt which was terrific and he showed his quality in that regard. He deserves huge credit for the career he's had. 103 caps is something special."