DERRY City boss Stephen Kenny today revealed how Sunderland were late entrants in the race to sign James McClean.
The Black Cats are set to wrap up a £350,000 deal for Irish winger McClean after the 22-year-old underwent a medical on Wearside last night.
McClean has become one of the most promising players in the Irish League and it has not gone unnoticed with the likes of Everton and Wigan keeping tabs on the left-footed wideman after moves to Portsmouth and Peterborough fell through.
But Sunderland’s interest didn’t become known until chief scout Pop Robson watched McClean in action for a League of Ireland XI against Manchester City in a pre-season friendly two weeks ago.
Kenny told the Echo: “Sunderland were a surprise because a couple of clubs had been watching him regularly.
“Several clubs were stunned when they turned up to scout our game with Galway on Friday and learned he was having a medical at Sunderland on Monday.
“Sunderland had seen him playing against Manchester City in the Super Cup and it has gone on from there.”
Derry have enjoyed notable success in their development of youngsters - Wigan striker Conor Sammon, Millwall keeper David Forde and Celtic winger Paddy McCourt all products of the club’s academy.
Kenny believes McClean is the best of the lot and insists the midfielder will believe he can force his way into the first-team picture at the Stadium of Light.
The former Dunfermline boss said: “He will want to be playing in the first-team. That won’t be easy because it is a big step up.
“But Sunderland haven’t got a lot of left-sided players so in that respect, his timing is good.
“Of all the players we have had over the last few years, James McClean has the best attitude of anybody.
“He wants to be a player and is always on the training ground. He loves his football and just loves the game.
“He hired his own personal trainer in the off-season which is something considering the players over here are not earning great money.”
Kenny added: “At 15-16 a lot of players at his school were capped by Northern Ireland or the Republic but he wasn’t among them.
“He didn’t catch the eye then, but he’s improved every year and he’s become the stand-out player in the country this season.
“He is a tremendous athlete first and foremost, very mobile and covers the ground very quickly.
“He is quite direct on the left wing and gets his crosses into the box.
“Everyone is delighted for him, even though it will hurt us and our chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
“We went into administration a couple of years ago but now we are level at the top of the Irish Premier.
“The transfer deadline has passed so we have lost our best player and we can’t replace him.
“But personally, I am thrilled for him because it couldn’t happen to a better person.
“He is a joy to work with and I’m sure Sunderland will help him develop.”