MARTIN O’Neill will continue to experiment with James McClean on the right, as he looks to put the winger at ease on either flank.
McClean exploded onto the Premier League stage as an old-fashioned orthodox left-winger last season after honing his trade in that role for League of Ireland outfit Derry City.
But Sunderland boss O’Neill is keen for McClean to become more versatile and moved the 23-year-old to the right for brief spells in each of his three pre-season outings for the Black Cats.
The Republic of Ireland wideman’s international boss Giovanni Trapattoni has expressed similar intentions and O’Neill is confident that last year’s Young Player of the Season has the ability to thrive on both flanks.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I genuinely don’t think it’s tough for him to learn to play on the right.
“He’s capable of cutting inside on people and showing that type of spark.
“I’ve tried him on the right-hand side where I think he can play pretty adeptly.
“And we’ll continue to try to shift him around and see how he does. The best way for him to learn is for him to play for 10 or 15 minutes in those positions.”
O’Neill knows McClean, who has been doing one-on-one training with Sunderland coach and former Celtic winger Steve Guppy, must continue to develop after losing the element of surprise.
McClean was an unknown when he made his Sunderland bow against Blackburn last December before becoming a fixture in the starting XI after his full debut on New Year’s Day against league leaders Manchester City.
He noticeably came in for extra attention from opposite sides as the season wore on, but O’Neill is convinced last year’s Young Player of the Season will continue to thrive.
“There’s no worries from me around James,” added O’Neill.
“His consistency levels were brilliant last season. That might drop for a game or two over the course of the next few months, but overall I don’t have any fears at all.
“Of course, he’s got to develop his game and he’s been trying that as well too by playing in a number of positions.”
McClean, who is expected to feature for Ireland in tomorrow’s friendly in Serbia, is similarly confident of avoiding any second-season syndrome.
“Teams might know a bit more about me next season, but if I’ve improved, then hopefully I’ll be harder to deal with,” he told the Echo last week.