Football/Soccer

Support for James McClean comes slowly as Republic prepare for Danes

James McClean (left) hopes the Republic of Ireland have one big performance left in them ahead of Denmark clash

THE English FA’s text message of support to James McClean over his refusal to wear a Poppy was belated but nonetheless welcomed, said the Derry man.

For the last number of years McClean has been on the receiving end of some vitriolic abuse both in stadiums around England and on social media over his Poppy stance.

Despite explaining his reasons, McClean has remained a target of rival fans, which intensifies in the lead up to Remembrance Day on November 11.

But perhaps the tide is turning ever so slightly.

Sitting down with reporters earlier this week, the 30-year-old said: “For the first time ever, I got a text message from the FA showing support on the eve of the game [Barnsley v Stoke City] so that’s a first one.

“Maybe the tide is turning. I appreciate the text, it said: if there were any issues, I should report it. It was the first time that such support was shown. It’s a long time coming and it’s something I appreciate. I was shocked because it was a random number. As much as I was shocked, I appreciate it as well.”

He added: “I think if you bang on the door long enough eventually someone is going to answer. Maybe it took me calling it out a few times for them to respond. But they responded, so fair play.”

McClean acknowledged the incessant abuse he’s endured over his beliefs has taken a toll on those around him.

“I am fine,” he said. “It is more my family, my wife and especially my mother. They have to deal with it just as much as I do. For me, it is water off a duck’s back, I just get on with it.

“The way I see it, it is just name calling… It affects my family a bit more, which I probably don’t take into consideration to be honest because I just get on with it, but it is not ideal.

“As the quote says: ‘I would rather stand for something than fall for nothing.’ I can sleep better at night knowing that I stand up for what I believe in and take whatever comes my way.”

McClean was restored to Stoke City’s starting line-up for Michael O’Neill’s first game in charge, away to Barnsley last weekend, which saw The Potters record only their third league win of the season.

The Republic of Ireland’s talisman in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, McClean has struggled to maintain those high standards under Mick McCarthy.

A regular starter since the opening Euro 2020 Qualifier in Gibraltar back in March, McClean’s performances have swung between five and six-out-of-10 and probably dipped below that in the scoreless draw in Georgia last month.

Still, his insatiable work-rate helped yield a crucial equalising goal at home to Switzerland in September, winning the ball back and sending in the cross for David McGoldrick to head home late in the game.

“I haven't scored [since Wales, October 2017] so I feel like I could do better,” McClean admitted.

“I'm the first to hold my hands up, I'm my own biggest critic. I don't need other people telling me; I know how I play myself. I haven't scored but I still feel I've contributed, I've played every game and we're one win from qualifying, so I've contributed well but it would be nice to score [against Denmark] on Monday.”

You sense that the criticism he’s received in the media for his displays in the current campaign has rattled him, when he said: “I couldn't give a sh*t what you write, to be honest.”

Sitting on 72 caps, McClean first broke into the senior set-up under Giovanni Trapattoni and played in Euro 2012.

Although he’s not producing vintage displays of late, he is justifiably proud of his international career.

"If you would have told me when I was at Derry in 2011 that in 2019 I'd have 72 caps, 10 goals - I think I'm one or two away from breaking into the top 10 of all-time goalscorers - I would probably have laughed at you.

“But you can't rest on your laurels. Hopefully I can get into that top 10, add a few more goals, get plenty more caps and one or two more major tournaments. I’m really pleased with how it has gone. If you had asked me back then, I would have snapped your hand off for where I am now.”

Everyone remembers that bitterly disappointing night in Dublin two years ago when the Danes denied the Republic a place at the 2018 World Cup finals, with Christian Eriksen grabbing a brilliant hat-trick in an emphatic 5-1 win for the visitors.

The landscape looked so bright and hopeful for Martin O’Neill’s men after they'd taken a scoreless draw from the first leg play-off clash in Copenhagen.

Within six minutes of the return leg, Shane Duffy put the Irish in the driving seat and McClean went desperately close to doubling their lead on the half hour mark with a rasping drive that breezed past Denmark’s upright.

The pair drew 1-1 in the Danish capital on June 7 with the Republic needing a win on Monday night to secure their place at Euro 2020 and deny Age Hareide’s men.

For some of the Danish players, playing against an obdurate opponent like Ireland has been a joyless experience.

In their last five meetings, including two Uefa Nations League ties, three of the games didn’t produce a goal.

After the first leg of their World Cup play-off in November 2017, midfielder Thomas Delaney said trying to open up the Irish defence was like trying to open up a tin of beans with your bare hands.

Hareide also told reporters he's fed up playing the Republic of Ireland.

‘Hopefully, he’s even more pissed off after Monday night," McClean said.

"I couldn’t give a shit what he thinks. No point lying. I couldn’t care less. Hopefully, he’s coming off the pitch on Monday night and he’s thinking: 'I never want to see these again.' It doesn’t bother us.’

"We beat Germany when it mattered, Italy when it mattered, Wales when it mattered. We’ve got a big result in us; we probably haven’t had that big result this campaign yet. We’ve got one game now to do that."

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Football/Soccer