O’Neill unaware of McClean on first arrival

Martin O’Neill has admitted that he did not know who James McClean was until he arrived at Sunderland and only saw him in a reserve team game. The Republic of Ireland international has made a huge impact under O’Neill and is enjoying great success in the Sunderland side.

McClean earned his first cap for his country in Wednesday’s friendly with Switzerland and the 22 year old is now a regular for his club also. O’Neill saw McClean in a reserve team fixture with Manchester United and was impressed with the way he played, so gave him a chance against Blackburn in O’Neill’s first game in charge. The Sunderland winger has showed what he can bring to the side with a direct approach to wingplay and a good eye for goal, as his tidy finish against Stoke City last month will testify.

O’Neill has praised the 22 year old, saying: ‘I met him during my first week. He had been substitute for a number of games without ever getting on the field of play, but I did see him play for our reserves against Manchester United during my first week at the club. I put him on against Blackburn in the 75th minute when it looked like we had run out of ideas’.

That game against Rovers showed McClean to the Premier League and there is expected to be interest in the Irishman from a host of sides. Sunderland will be keen to hold on to the 22 year old as long as possible and O’Neill is hopeful that McClean can keep giving the side a boost. McClean could be in line for a start in his first Tyne-Wear derby when Sunderland travel to Newcastle this weekend.

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