JAMES McClean will make his first start for the Republic of Ireland tonight after being given the official seal of approval by manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
Up until now, the Italian has been lukewarm in his acknowledgement of the young Sunderland winger’s international credentials, preferring instead to highlight the quality of established wing pair Aidan McGeady and Damian Duff.
Trapattoni is famously loyal to the players and teams he moulds and it seemed almost with reluctance that McClean was included in the Republic squad earlier this year with a question mark hanging until the very last minute over whether he would make the cut for the country’s 2012 squad.
Even when the players first linked up, Trapattoni was playing down the youngster’s prospect of involvement but he has been won around by McClean’s efforts in training.
Earlier this week he was admitting for the first time that the 23-year-old could be one for the summer, as well as the future.
And it seems he has hatched a tactical plan to use McClean as a possible impact player at the tournament or even deploy him as an attacking midfielder or support striker.
“I have waited for him but I know him and I know what to expect from him and what he can do,” said the veteran boss.
“He is a different player to Duff and McGeady and I will not ask him to do what they do. We have two strong players in these positions on the left and right.
“But this is the first time in tonight’s game he will play with Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle and he can take confidence from them.
“I will give him trust.
“I have seen him many times with his club and I know he can do well. It is important he is with us now and he takes confidence from the team and I am sure we can try him in another position.
“When he first came in he was a little bit shy which is usual for a new young player but I think he can be very important for us in certain situations.”
As well as McClean getting his opportunity to impress tonight, so too will his Sunderland team-mate Keiren Westwood who deputises in goal for Republic number one Shay Given.
Given flew over to London during the week for specialist advice on a knee injury sustained on Monday and the question now has to be, having missed the Bosnia-Herzegovina friendly tonight, is the Aston Villa keeper in danger of missing some or all of the tournament?
If Given does struggle, then Westwood would hope to capitalise – just as former Sunderland defender Paul McShane will do this evening, having been called in as cover for John O’Shea who misses out with an ankle injury.
O’Shea, though, has been rested purely as a precaution with Trapattoni anxious to have the Sunderland defender 100 per cent fit for start of the Euros.
Republic of Ireland: Westwood; McShane, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Gibson, Whelan, McClean; Keane, Doyle.