MARTIN O’Neill believes Sunderland Young Player of the Season James McClean will avoid ‘second-season syndrome’ and continue to make his mark on the Premier League in the 2012-13 campaign.
The rise and rise of the 23-year-old former Derry City winger – given his Sunderland debut by O’Neill in December, in the new manager’s first game in charge – was one of the most heart-warming aspects of the upturn the new boss engineered.
In five months McClean made such an impact that he broke into Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland European Championship squad and made his competitive debut against current World and European champions Spain.
“I know people are talking about the ‘second season syndrome’ but I have no doubt that he has the ability and the capacity to keep it going,” said O’Neill (right).
“It has been an almost fairytale-like rise which he has had – even getting into the European Championship squad.
“And although he didn’t get much game time, he still needs to now get a break and come back a wee bit later than some of the rest of the squad and then take off from where he left off.”
O’Neill is still thrilled at the impact made by a youngster who joined Sunderland a year ago but didn’t break into the first team until the new manager’s arrival.
“He has been sensational,” O’Neill enthused. “I can remember when he came on against Blackburn Rovers, he gave us that little bit of extra impetus and he never really looked back after that.
“Then whenever he got his chance in terms of starting he really took his chance and played well to ensure that he kept his place in the starting line-up.”
McClean was swiftly tied down on a new three-year deal but O’Neill was coy when questioned about what new faces might be playing alongside the young Irish winger – Republic team-mates Aiden McGeady, Stephen Ward and Kevin Doyle all having been linked.
“I’m not going to talk about individual players,” he said.
“And now with the Euros coming to an end, you are now going to get stories about clubs after this player and players going to this team.
“I think most football clubs analyse their season which has just gone past and yes, obviously the team did very well, but I would like to add a bit of strength in depth to our squad.”