MAN-OF-THE-MOMENT James McClean is relishing life in the fast lane after establishing himself as a first-team regular at Sunderland and yesterday breaking into Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad for the first time.
McClean wasn’t in the Italian’s original squad to face the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium at the end of February.
But the 22-year-old winger’s outstanding performances for Sunderland in recent weeks have made a call-up almost inevitable and yesterday, he and Derby County midfielder Paul Green were added to what is now a 26-man squad.
McClean was elated after his debut call-up, the Derry man having played for Northern Ireland Under 21s but having exercised an option to make himself available for Republic selection.
“I couldn’t believe it when I read the text informing me that I had been called into the squad,” he said. “It came as a major surprise to me and I’m absolutely delighted to have been called up.
“But I realise this is basically an opportunity, nothing more, and I can’t afford to take anything for granted.
“Naturally I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed that I will get a run-out but, at the same time, I won’t be disappointed if I don’t.
“Meeting the players and getting involved in the international set-up will be brilliant for me.”
It won’t be altogether a new experience for McClean when he meets up with his new colleagues – the squad including Sunderland’s John O’Shea and Keiren Westwood.
McClean acknowledged: “I know some of the players, having already met them when playing with Sunderland, so I’ll not be a stranger.
“And with two other lads from Derry also in the squad – Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy – it should make it easier to settle in.”
McClean is rated as having an outside chance of bursting into the Irish team for the European Championships this summer but the player himself prefers not to think long term, pointing out that he needs to focus on consolidating the progress he’s made already.
“I’ve had a very interesting six or seven months since joining Sunderland,” he said. “That was a dream come true for me and now another dream could lie ahead when making my debut for the Republic of Ireland.
“It’s the next step for me but I can’t afford to get carried away.
“To make my debut, be it against the Czech Republic or at another time, would make that dream come true and that’s all I’m focused on.
“Things have gone really well for me since I moved to Sunderland in the summer and it’s important that I keep working on that front.
“Holding down my first team place is obviously very important to me but to make my senior international debut would be absolutely fantastic.”