SUNDERLAND’S James McClean has been advised by boss Martin O’Neill to keep his own counsel amid unrest over his decision to represent the Republic of Ireland.
The Derry-born 23-year-old was subjected to abuse when he announced earlier this season he had opted to play for the Republic rather than his native Northern Ireland after exercising his right under the Good Friday agreement.
He was similarly attacked via Twitter this week following his selection for Giovanni Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 finals squad and swiftly closed his account after receiving death threats.
The matter prompted Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to step in to urge calm and O’Neill, who played for the North, has urged McClean not to be dragged further into the row.
He said: “It didn’t exist in my time, but it is something that has cropped up now, the possibility of playing for either side and that’s something James has done.
“He has been on Twittering and he has been doing that for some time. He has been given advice in closing the account down, so at least that’s gone.
“He is going to get some sort of a reaction to it from somewhere, but I am not so sure he should be reacting to the reactions, as it were.
“Whether it’s the end of it or not ... but at least the Twitter account has gone.”
O’Neill’s comments came after McClean had repeated his admission he never felt comfortable representing Northern Ireland at junior level to journalists in Dublin.
He said: “I think any Catholic would be lying if they said they did feel at home, seeing all those flags (Union Jacks) and hearing the songs and chants.
“For me, I didn’t feel a part of it. It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but it was just a stepping stone in my career.
“When I signed for Sunderland, my dream of playing for Ireland became realistic.”
The midfielder will meet up early with the Republic squad next week, with manager Giovanni Trapattoni planning to use the time to put him through his paces on the right wing as well as his more accustomed left and O’Neill could hardly be more delighted.
He said: “It’s funny you should mention that because I said to James in training that I wanted him to go and play a wee bit in the fashion of someone like Damien Duff and people like that so he has the ability next season to play on either flank. That would be great.
“If Trapattoni uses him in that fashion, that will be great. It will save me the bother.”