Stoke City boss Michael O'Neill disappointed with Ireland's handling of James McClean

STOKE CITY manager Michael O'Neill insists he is 'disappointed' with Republic of Ireland's handling of James McClean during the recent international break.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 4:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 4:12 pm
James McClean was involved in all three Ireland international fixtures during the break.

The Potters winger, who marked his 80th cap for Ireland with a goal in the 1-1 draw against Qatar, had missed the previous six games with his club due to a foot injury.

O'Neill claims he spoke with Ireland boss Stephen Kenny on two occasions to discuss McClean's fitness and he was surprised to see the Derry man involved in all three international fixtures against Serbia, Luxembourg and Qatar.

The former Northern Ireland supremo claims he in no way questions McClean's desire to play for his country but understood the player was involved with the squad as 'a security blanket'.

"It was nice to see James get his 80th cap," he said. "I didn’t see the goal. But I didn’t expect him to play as much when he was away. Our understanding of James meeting up with Ireland was that he was being brought in as a security blanket.

"I had a conversation with Stephen Kenny on two occasions about James’s involvement. We didn’t think he was fit.

"I was a little bit disappointed to see him take part in three games and obviously he played 84 minutes (on Tuesday night).

"I think the main thing is making sure they (players on international duty) come back fit and healthy and ready to play. It’s more challenging at this stage of the season because players are fatigued anyway and they’ve played a lot of football to this point.

"The more difficult thing is if you’re going to do anything tactically, that you don’t have the players in the building. We’ve had to manage that this week and it’s been a bit more difficult to think about what we do as a team in relation to this game."

When asked if he was unhappy with Republic of Ireland and manager, Kenny rather than McClean, O'Neill said he was 'surprised' and 'disappointed'.

"I think I was pretty clear in what I said. I didn’t think James was fit enough to go away on international duty. He has a degenerative complaint in his foot that needed rest.

"It was too painful for him to play and he missed seven games with us. He subsequently received an injection for that and – I’m repeating myself – that he would be out for four to six weeks.

"We notified them very early that we felt James wasn’t fit enough to join up with the Republic of Ireland.

"I don’t question the player’s desire to play for his country - and very commendable that is - but I was surprised and disappointed to see him take part in all three games, particularly the final game where it is a friendly game and I think they had other options. I did see other players return to their clubs.

"We are disappointed with how the player has been handled during the international break."