‘We’ve bounced back from reality check’ – James McClean hails ‘reliance’ of young guns ahead of Ukraine clash

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JAMES McCLEAN believes the back-to-back defeats in the Nations League were a “reality check” for the younger players in the Ireland squad.

owever, McClean, who is likely to captain an injury-hit Ireland against Ukraine in Lodz tonight and win his 94th senior cap, insists the losses to Armenia and Ukraine made a young side stronger for Saturday’s test with Scotland, a 3-0 win, and the 33-year-old claims that there’s a steel in the younger players, like Jason Knight and Nathan Collins, which was not always there.

“There is a lot of ability here, especially with the young lads coming through so for me, going forward, I feel this team can achieve a lot and they are only going to get better with experience,” said McClean in Lodz, where he’s likely to take the captain’s armband as recent skippers Séamus Coleman (injury), Shane Duffy (suspension) and John Egan (family reasons) are absent.

Last Saturday’s hero, Michael Obafemi, has also been ruled out through injury.

“These little setbacks can sometimes be a good thing. It’s nice when you’re going well and you’re getting pats on the back and you’re being told you’re brilliant.

“But sometimes you need that little reality check and over the last two games we probably came in expecting to win both games and we haven’t, and it’s probably given lads a little bit of a reality check.

“We have to earn every win and show up and perform. We did that on Saturday and bounced back pretty well. With the ability and character of these young lads that we have in this squad, I can see this being a very successful team,” added the Wigan Athletic winger, who hopes to stick around for the Euro 2024 campaign.

“Confidence can be a bit low coming off the back of two defeats, but young lads are resilient. They just look forward to the next game. As senior lads, we’re here if they need any guidance.

“We’re resilient enough to keep going. They play with that ‘no fear’. Outside noise, good or bad, you can’t control it. That was something I was guilty of earlier in my career, getting caught up in that but as you get older, outside noise, good or bad, can’t affect what you do on the pitch. When you step over that white line it’s on you.”

“We’ve got a good set of youngsters here who have good character about them, resilience. They’ll be alright,” added McClean, who revealed that he’s added boxing to his personal training regime to sustain an international career which appeared to be in decline before a revival under Stephen Kenny.

His international manager, who worked with the player at Derry City, said he was concerned for the player’s future with the national team when he took over in 2020 but was rewarded with a McClean revival.

“I thought James was losing half a yard. He had a foot injury at the time, it was tough for him when he was at Stoke, I thought that James could still be effective, but he was on a decline. If anything he’s got quicker over the last year and it’s down to this rigorous training regime that he has,” Kenny said.

McClean, a fitness obsessive, says his interest in boxing has come into his playing career.

“I love my boxing, so I do a lot of boxing. I enjoy the gym work as well. It’s my release, whatever pressures or frustrations I have. It’s a way for me to release all that. Boxing is a bit of a passion of mine,” he said, adding that Euro 2024 was on his agenda.

“I feel very fit. My body is in good condition and I look after it. I feel fit and as hungry as ever. As long as that is the case I will keep going,” said McClean, now will overtake Aiden McGeady and become the Republic’s sixth most-capped player, on 94 caps, when he plays tonight.

“It’s nice to be selected first and foremost. With that then you’ve the responsibility to perform because you know you get selected based on how you perform. It’s quite pleasing to play well. It always helps when the team is at it as well, ten other lads that are right at it.

“Nothing will be taken for granted here. We have a good squad here and everyone is champing at the bit to get selected and they are pushing each other day in, day out in training.

“It’s important when you’re given the shirt that you perform and you give yourself the best possible chance to play in the next game,” added McClean.



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