May 4 2012
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has backed Republic of Ireland winger James McClean to make his mark on the European stage if he wins a place in Giovanni Trapattoni's summer plans.
The 23-year-old will discover on Monday if he has earned a trip to the Euro 2012 finals after a stunning six months on Wearside. Trapattoni has already indicated that McClean has a "90 to 99 per cent chance" of making the 23, and O'Neill is keeping everything crossed in the hope that McClean gets the chance to show what he can do for his country.
"The Republic are going there with tried and trusted players, players who have played for him (Trapattoni) and who have eked out results for him. But for James, it would be a fantastic experience, for a start. I actually believe he could make a contribution, even if it was coming off the bench," O'Neill said.
"I would say that anyway, but he's been terrific for us, really terrific, and he would certainly not be out of place, far from it. In fact, he could make a mark in that competition. But if he is not chosen for it, myself I wouldn't be too down-hearted about it.
"Maybe it would give him a chance in the summertime to just reflect on how well he has done and what he can maybe achieve next year, staying clear of serious injury, of course."
McClean, who was capped for the first time at senior level in February, was signed by former Black Cats manager Steve Bruce for a bargain £350,000 during the summer, but did not get his chance in the Barclays Premier League until O'Neill's first game at the helm against Blackburn on December 11.
He came on as a substitute with his side trailing 1-0 and made an instant impact as he helped to inspire a fightback which saw Sebastian Larsson clinch victory with a last-gasp free-kick.
O'Neill said: "Particularly when he came on against Blackburn, it seemed a pivotal moment. He electrified the crowd and really, he hasn't allowed his performances to drop too much since then. In fact, I think he has surpassed expectation.
"It's been three and a half months of just excellence from him, and naturally I'm delighted.
"He may well have surprised himself, really, by his consistency."