MARTIN O’NEILL insists James McClean’s latest off-the-field controversy has not affected his determination to regain a Sunderland starting spot.
The Sunderland winger closed his account on social networking site Twitter earlier this week after he was accused by East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell of promoting a song supporting the IRA.
O’Neill has held face-to-face talks with McClean, although the Sunderland manager has fallen short of fining the 23-year-old, despite widespread reports to the contrary.
And O’Neill is adamant that McClean’s levels on the training field haven’t suffered either after suggestions that the former Derry City winger had shown a poor attitude at the Academy of Light.
After being confined to the bench for four of the last five games and missing the defeat to Arsenal three weeks ago with a knee injury, O’Neill says McClean has demonstrated an eagerness to force his way back into the fold.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I’ll deal with things internally, but he hasn’t been fined. His training over the last fortnight, has been very, very strong indeed. He stays behind for extra work.
“I’ve got no fears on that score.
“The Arsenal game was the first time that he missed out through injury after he got injured in the first half on international duty and played on.
“There’s a definite keenness that he wants to get back and play, which is encouraging.”
McClean’s latest spat is the third time this season he has found himself in the doghouse.
In September, McClean was forced to apologise to Giovanni Trapattoni after ranting against the Republic of Ireland manager on Twitter.
And then two months later, McClean prompted much criticism by opting not to wear a specially-designed Poppy-crested shirt to commemorate Remembrance Day.
O’Neill spoke with McClean about the need to concentrate on his football earlier this week, but he says last season’s Young Player of the Year had already closed his Twitter account before entering the meeting.
“James has voluntarily come off Twitter and I think he now feels that concentrating totally on football issues is the most important thing for him,” added O’Neill.
“He had a whirlwind start and by his own admission, he’s finding the second season difficult.
“Sometimes when you are tweeting, you might feel as if you’re speaking to three or four friends. But this is for public consumption.
“I think he realises the best thing is to leave things alone and concentrate on footballing issues.
“That’s very important in a game which can be excellent for you, but if you take your eye off the ball, you can disappear very, very quickly.”