JAMES McClean could be forgiven for relishing the thought of a summer break after a gruelling season in the English Championship combined with the demanding responsibilities of fatherhood.
But the Republic of Ireland winger is instead looking ahead to a two game tour in the United States with Martin O’Neill’s troops where he’s hoping to line out against ‘World Player of the Year’, Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portugal team who are fine-tuning preparations for next month’s World Cup in Brazil.
A short holiday in Marbella and a few days back home in Derry to recharge the batteries and McClean was straight back in training at Ireland’s Malahide base preparing for the first of four friendly fixtures, against Turkey at the Aviva Stadium.
The Creggan man and his Ireland teammates, who include fellow Derry man, Shane Duffy, take on Costa Rica on June 6th at PPL Park in Philadelphia, before travelling to New Jersey where they meet Portgual four days later at the Met Life Stadium.
Those will be high intensity games against some of the world’s best attacking talent, including 2014 Champions League winner, Ronaldo, so there’s no let up for former Derry City winger.
Before embarking on that trans-Atlantic tour, however, the Republic face an Italian side who are serious contenders in the 2014 World Cup, at Fulham’s Craven Cottage tomorrow.
And Ireland will no doubt be taking this ‘friendly’ test seriously as FIFA’s new ranking list is issued next week and O’Neill’s men risk slipping down to a new low!
After suffering a 1-2 home defeat to Turkey last week which followed a loss to Serbia, McClean is hoping to improve his side’s fortunes against the 2006 World champions.
Indeed, the Creggan Heights lad is hoping to nail down his place in O’Neill’s squad ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and he’s hopeful his performances in the green jersey this summer will impress his former Sunderland boss.
“For any footballer you want to test yourself against the best players in the world and they don’t come any better than Cristiano Ronaldo,” said McClean.
“Hopefully he plays in the game against Portugal in New Jersey but obviously we play Italy and Costa Rica before that and they’re all very good sides.
“At international level you’re playing against the best players and I’m looking forward to it. It will be nice to say I’ve played against Ronaldo.
“And while it was disappointing not to make the World Cup ourselves. Nothing, I’m sure, comes close to playing in the World Cup so we were devastated when we didn’t make it.
“But I just want to get as many international caps as possible,” he added.
The Wigan Athletic winger has established himself in the Republic set-up in recent years and while O’Neill knows him well from his time at Sunderland, he knows he must work as hard as ever to retain his place in the squad.
“It doesn’t matter who the manager is or if they’ve been manager for four or five years or just one day, you have to do your best for them and earn their faith.
“No one is in the team on sentiment, they’re in the team on merit and hopefully I can nail down my place in the team like I’ve managed to since the manager has come in.”
McClean enjoyed his short spell back home to see his family and friends after the heartbreak of losing out to QPR in the Championship play-off semi-finals. And he believes a return home was the perfect tonic for missing out on a return to the Premiership.
“It was good to get back home and see my family and friends,” he said. “It’s been a long season, we played a lot of games so it’s important you get you get your down time and switch off or else you’ll drive yourself crazy.
“It was nice to switch off physically and mentally and I got away for a few days and got back home for a couple of days.
“So I’m looking forward to these internationals and then I’ll get a chance to switch off again and get ready for pre-season.”
James and fiancee, Erin Connor celebrated the arrival of their first child last December when baby, Allie-Mae was born.
It was a hectic upheaval for McClean as he attempted to balance the sleepless night with early morning training sessions but he was full of praise for his understanding fiancée and ‘teammate’, Erin.
“To be fair she’s (Allie-Mai) brilliant and there’s no bother with her at all,” he said. “Her mother has been a star in that sense.
“She does 90 per cent of the night feeds and I’ll get up in the morning with her. She’s been brilinat as well and very understanding of the situation and what my job involves.
“So she does the night feeds so I can go in fresh to training so it’s good teamwork. She’s a good teammate,” he laughed.
James will have plenty of time to spend with his child and of course enjoy the World Cup when the international friendly with Portugal is over but he’s already got an eye on his return to pre-season.
And despite an impressive and sometimes frustrating year with Wigan, he knows he has plenty to prove to Lactics boss, Uwe Rosler.
“The manager’s policy was rotating which I found a bit frustrating at the start of the season,” he claimed. “No matter how you were playing, even if you scored two or three goals the game before you weren’t guaranteed your place in the next game.
“He likes to rotate his front players and keep them fresh and that’s something I had to get used to. Although I would have liked to play more than I did, I still played a lot of games last season. That’s football in the modern day and age. Managers like to rotate and have big squads and you just have to get used to it,” he concluded.