NI youth team 'stepping stone' - McClean

Published Friday, 11 May 2012
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Football star James McClean says he never felt at home playing for Northern Ireland as a youth, describing it as a "stepping stone in my career".

NI youth team 'stepping stone' - McClean
McClean in action for the Republic in a friendly against the Czech Republic. (© Getty)

The 23-year-old, who chose to play for the Republic rather than his native NI, closed his Twitter account this week over fresh abuse that followed his selection for Giovanni Trapattoni's Euro 2012 finals squad.

McClean admitted he was never comfortable playing for the north at junior level, before exercising his right to switch allegiances under the Good Friday Agreement.

"I think any Catholic would be lying if they said they did feel at home, seeing all those flags [Union Jacks] and hearing the songs and chants," he told the press in Dublin.

"For me, I didn't feel a part of it. It's probably the wrong thing to say, but it was just a stepping stone in my career."

McClean, a former Derry City player, joined Premier League side Sunderland last year and has enjoyed an excellent second half to the season at the Stadium of Light.

"When I signed for Sunderland, my dream of playing for Ireland became realistic," he added.

"I'm in the squad and I'm delighted to be in the squad. But I'm not going to be here just to make up the numbers and leave it at that.

"We have the training camp and the friendlies coming up and I want to show him that I can leave my mark and give him something to think about when it comes to selecting the team for the first game. Hopefully, I'll give him a dilemma."

However, the Irish Football Association has expressed its disappointment at McClean's comments about his time with the Northern Ireland squad.

The statement read: "The Irish FA's strategic vision is to foster, develop and promote football for all throughout Northern Ireland.

"The Association has a very successful 'Football For All' programme where the main objective of the programme is to make sure that the sport of football is welcoming and inclusive to all members of our society in Northern Ireland and we will continue to drive this initiative forward."

The statement continued: "We pride ourselves with the fact that all Northern Ireland international football teams - both past and present - have always involved players from all sections of the community.

"All our programmes - from grassroots football and our centres of excellence, to our girls and women's football and disability development programmes - each and every one has always been cross community, promoting 'Football For All'."

The IFA said that numbers of participants in their programmes continues to rise.

Meanwhile Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill, who established McClean as a first-team regular following his arrival at the club last December, has urged the midfielder not to be dragged further into the row over national sides.

"It didn't exist in my time, but it is something that has cropped up now, the possibility of playing for either side, and that's something that James has done," he said.

"He has been on twittering and he has been doing that for some time. He has been given advice in closing the account down, so at least that's gone.

"He is going to get some sort of a reaction to it from somewhere, but I am not so sure he should be reacting to the reactions, as it were.

"Whether it's the end of it or not (I don't know) ... but at least the Twitter account has gone."

© UTV News
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23 Comments
Paris in Belfast wrote (892 days ago):
Whenever this issue arises, it is funny how some of those who leave comments complaining about flags at Windsor and the national anthem also make it clear how much they despise the existence of Northern Ireland. If you live here in the UK but want to support the ROI then that is your choice, but don't pretend to justify it by inventing some excuse when no matter what flags were at Windsor or what anthem played you would never support a Northern Ireland team. Just be honest.
Paris in Belfast wrote (892 days ago):
The IFA invested time and money in McClean and it has been for nothing. The fact is that a young player, catholic or protestant, lost out on an opportunity because it was given to McClean and he used it as a stepping stone to another team.
ciaran in derry wrote (893 days ago):
the ifa and the n.i fans hasnt done enough to make catholic supporters and players feel welcome at windsor park,thats a fact,the answer is an all ireland team,but theres a hardcore of n.i fans who dont want it, they just want there wee team and if you play for their wee team you play by their rules,if thats what they want then the price you pay is losing players who arent happy.james is playing for his country thats what n.i fans have to accept,he has a irish passport,played in league of ireland,supported rep.ireland and most important of all hes irish. because he played for n.i school boys means nothing, ryan giggs played for england school boys and hes welsh.
william in coleraine wrote (893 days ago):
well done james on your selection for the republic team in the euros. I and thousands of others like me will be cheering you to the hilt. COME ON YOU BOYS IN GREEN!
steve in belfast wrote (893 days ago):
I don,t think anyone has a problem with James McClean wanting to play for the republic,what bothers me is he should have said so earlier and gave someone who did want to play for their country a chance to play at the junior levels.He does,nt want to play for the N.Ireland shirt so he won,t be missed,and for him to say that Catholics would be lying if they said they wanted to play for N.Ireland is disgusting,Pat Jennings,Martin O,Neill,Gerry Armstrong,Mal Donaghy, were all worshipped be the fans and rightly so.
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