James McClean reaching 100 caps is the most Irish of football stories
"If I continue to get picked, why not?"
James McClean will earn his 100th Ireland cap, this evening, and streak about the Aviva Stadium pitch for each and every minute Stephen Kenny needs him.
He will equal the caps tally that Damien Duff reached in 2012. After tonight, only five other Ireland players will have played more times for their country.
McClean, like fellow 100+ cap Ireland star Kevin Kilbane, is the epitome of Irish football. Many others may have felt they were more composed and more skilful. Hardly any of them will ever come close to their respective tally.
Both men do that most simple, and most desired, jobs for Ireland - they give it their all.
The likes of Wes Hoolahan, Liam Brady, Andy Reid and Mark Kennedy (we could go on) may have promised more and may have created more debates. McClean has always been there. Always harrying, cajoling, pegging it and throwing in the odd leveller tackle.
He was 22 by the time he got the big shout to head to Sunderland. When you tot up his 2011/12 season, rolling his final Derry season into his debut season with Sunderland, he scored 14 goals in 54 games. He was a whirlwind, back then, and one of the biggest reasons to get excited about Euro 2012.
He barely got a look-in from Giovanni Trapattoni, who declared, "His time would come in the future", and was one of few in that Ireland squad to emerge with credit as we were dumped out before the knock-out stages.
The peak of James McClean
The peak of McClean in green was 2014 to 2017. He scored 10 goals in 39 games, including a big double away to Moldova and winners against Austria and Wales. All that high-charged energy and national brio merged as he was often the beating heart fore his team. He was not always perfect - he would often has his opposite number beaten before wasting the cross or the final ball - but he was a bright spot.
Ireland went to Euro 2016, in the midst of his peak, and got to the knock-out stages before giving France a good rattle.
We hoped Ireland - driven on by McClean, Coleman, Long, Brady and Hendrick - would kick on from there. As we now know, that tournament in France was their peak.
In later years, McClean has been the wing-back or the impact sub. He has been in and out of the squad. He made impacts and he had frustrating performances. Still, coach after coach has selected him.
Ahead of what he was hoping would be 100 not out, against Gibraltar, the Derry native was asked for his greatest achievement in green. He replied:
"Representing Ireland. Being able to do that just once was special. I’ve never hidden the fact of how proud I am to be Irish. To be given the opportunity to step on the pitch and effect games for your country, that’s what I’m proudest of."
A century of games for his country and, you get the impression, he may still be lining out in some league, in some corner of the world or nook of Ireland, and he'll still back himself to do the job.
He would probably admit himself that he rarely touch world-beater status.
Rattling folks though and emptying himself for the cause.
Lad from Derry coming through the domestic league(s) to wear the green jersey. His 100 caps is the most Irish of football stories.
WATCH HOUSE OF FOOTBALL:
- House of Football: Ireland’s glimmer of hope, selfies with Roy and the art of free-kicks
- "I was just trying to be humble!" - Roy Keane almost talks himself out of City and United dream team
- Roy Keane names two players Man United should sign this summer
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reveals Man United rejected signing Erling Haaland for £4 million