MARTIN O’Neill says James McClean must see his new three-year contract as a beginning rather than an end.
The 22-year-old winger moved into the big league yesterday after clinching a long-term contract which gives him some sort of parity with his Premier League colleagues.
McClean arrived in the summer, the least heralded of Steve Bruce’s 11 signings, and the £350,000 signing from Derry City had the contract to match his unknown status.
But a starring role in the Martin O’Neill-inspired Sunderland resurgence has set the world of football talking and the Black Cats have moved quickly to tie down their rising star.
O’Neill told the Echo: “We’re delighted to have James with us for the long run and he’s fully deserved his new contract.
“It’s great news for him. He’s improved his terms, but he has deserved to and it is great news for the club because we have a potential top-quality player.
“What I hope more than anything is that he’ll use this as a launching point, that he’ll keep going, keep improving. He’s going to have to, because he’s now very much a known quantity.
“A few weeks ago, opposition clubs didn’t know much about him but now they know he’s going to be one of the big dangers, so you get teams doubling up on him a lot more, like Blackburn did on Tuesday.”
It has been a meteoric rise for the young Irishman.
Barely four months ago, he was the obscurity of Sunderland Reserves and barely mentioned in terms of first-team chances.
Now he has become a first-team regular under Martin O’Neill, making 19 appearances, scoring four goals and making his first senior Republic of Ireland appearance.
The Sunderland manager said: “He has deserved the contract. We believe that he is worthy of it, that he won’t be affected by it and that he can go on and do brilliantly for this club.
“Who knows what might happen in the future but we have given him his chance, he has repaid us by committing his future to the club and I think this is one of those deals that are in the best interests of all concerned.”