JAMES McClean says he does not believe in second-season syndrome.
And he plans to make as much of an impact in his first full Premier League season ahead, as he did in the second half of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign.
The 23-year-old was one of the surprise stars to emerge in the top flight last season after being handed his first-team debut by Martin O’Neill in the Sunderland manager’s first game in charge last December.
The Irish right-winger proved to be a breath of fresh air for the Black Cats, winning widespread praise as he unsettled top flight defences with his aggression and directness and earned himself promotion to the Republic of Ireland senior squad in the process.
As well as putting in a steady flow of good crosses, he weighed in with six goals in 29 appearances – just two less than top scorers Nicklas Bendtner, Stephane Sessegnon and Seb Larsson, who all played from the start of the season.
Towards the end of the campaign, McClean found the going tougher, scoring just one goal in nine matches as teams ‘doubled’ up on him – ensuring two players were there to challenge him every time he got the ball.
Despite that though, McClean – who scored in the friendly against Derby County midweek – is convinced he can repeat and even improve on his early success.
He told the Echo: “I don’t believe in second-season syndrome. You just have to go out and work hard to improve your game if you want to progress and that’s what I’m looking to do each time we play.
“So I’m looking forward to the new season because I believe I’ll only get better the more experienced I get.
“Teams might know a bit more about me next season but if I’ve improved, then hopefully I’ll be harder to deal with.”
McClean promises however not to alter the attacking style which excited the fans last season – supporters loved to watch him get the ball and immediately try to put the opposition on the back foot.
“That’s my game,” he said. “It has always been my game to get the ball and attack defenders and I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.
“I took it as a compliment when teams doubled up on me.
“This is the best league in the world, so teams are capable of doing that to you, but it’s still great to know that teams rate you highly enough to do that to you.
“It’s a new challenge to my game – having to try to overcome things like that.
“It puts an extra bit of pressure on me, but it’s pressure I enjoy.
“And if we bring in some new signings, who are also attack-minded, then it is only going to make it more of a risk for the opposition to double up on one player when another one can hurt you.
“Personally, I couldn’t be more excited about the new season. Last season it took me a long time to break into the side but this time I hope to be involved from the start.”