MARTIN O’Neill says he has been totally taken aback by wing wonder James McClean’s rise to prominence.
The Sunderland boss has been watching and waiting for a dip in form from the new boy – but it has not happened.
O’Neill says it is only natural for newly-introduced young players to the first-team to hit a sticky patch at some stage.
But he admits he has been amazed at the consistently eye-catching performances young Irishman McClean has managed to produce so far.
He told the Echo: “James has done brilliantly.
“You’d have expected a dip from him by now, but it just hasn’t come and in some ways, that’s surprising.
“As a manager, you’re looking out for these things, because that’s when you have to step in and do your job.
“Young players can often break into a side and have an immediate impact, but there almost always comes that point where they have two or three games where they can’t maintain that level, two or three games where absolutely nothing goes right for them.
“At that point, young players will wonder whether it’s all been a bit of a dream so far and now they’re facing waking up into a bit of a nightmare.
“As a manager you’ve got to be looking to look after them and help them one way or another when that happens.
“But James has come into the side, played terrifically well from the start and shows no sign of letting up.
“I’m so impressed with his eagerness and his energy levels and the fact that he just loves to pick up the ball and run at players who are often established Premier League players. He has no fear in that direction.”
McClean was brought on as a substitute in O’Neill’s first game in charge – the 2-1 home win over Blackburn Rovers – and has started all but one of Sunderland’s games since then, scoring four goals in 13 games in the process.
It is a contribution which has got football sitting up and taking notice – several high-profile names in the game tipping the 22-year-old for success in the seasons ahead.
O’Neill, left, commented: “James has the temperament to see what potential pitfalls could be in front of him in terms of his form – the fact that at some stage it will happen.
“But I believe he can overcome any problems.
“I believe he has the mentality to do that and I also believe as well that all this is so exciting for him and that he just really enjoys playing football.
“I’m told that his approach had been just the same in the League of Ireland.
“Of course, there might be times when things don’t go for him and he loses a wee bit of confidence, but eventually I think he will be able to overcome that and push on.”