JAMES McCLEAN admits his first taste of the Premier League action has come sooner than he expected after an explosive Sunderland debut.
McClean was earmarked as one for the future when he arrived at the Stadium of Light in a £350,000 deal from Derry City during the summer.
But the 22-year-old has progressed swiftly in his four months on Wearside, finally getting his chance from the bench in Sunday’s victory over Blackburn after being left among the substitutes on eight previous occasions.
McClean, who impressed new boss Martin O’Neill in last week’s reserve team win over Manchester United, grasped his opportunity by providing the spark for Sunderland’s late comeback.
“When I arrived, I just wanted to get into the team as soon as possible,” he said. “But I didn’t expect it to be so quick.
“I came here with the mindset of working hard every day in training, trying to improve as a player and eventually getting into the team.
“Now I’m just delighted to get my debut out of the way.
“But I’m not taking anything for granted, I know it’s only one game. I’ll continue with what I’ve been doing in training and try to improve.”
He added: “It wasn’t a bad debut at all, with the manager’s first game in charge and to get the win as well. It was an all-round good day.
“I just came on and played my own game and it was a great moment.
“The manager just told me to go on, play my normal game and not be nervous. That gave me the confidence to just go on and do what I’ve been doing in the reserves.”
McClean believes O’Neill’s arrival has given Sunderland a renewed lease of life, with Sunday’s victory ending a five-game winless sequence.
And the left winger says O’Neill has earned instant respect on the training ground after his track record of success at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa.
McClean said: “The new manager has come in and been a breath of fresh air. He’s given the lads a lot of confidence by being upbeat. It’s obviously rubbed off on the players.
“Training has been different as every manager has their own style, but there’s not been big changes. You could see what it meant to the fans to have the new manager appointed.
“For him to get a win in his first game in charge, made it the perfect day. His managerial record speaks for itself.
“Martin O’Neill is a big name in football. When you’re a player like myself, coming through the ranks, it gives you a confidence boost when there’s someone like that in charge.”