James McClean's latest comments on Northern Ireland are just brilliant
As James McClean so obviously matures as a footballer, he does too as a man.
If he can fire Ireland to their first World Cup in what will be 16 years, he'll be well on his way to legend status.
You can hear it already, in the stands of Lansdowne Road. Even when he's warming up in a friendly game, the excitement is palpable. When he's chasing after a 50/50, the biggest roar of the night is readied. Now, his pace and his composure and his pure conviction are thrilling the Irish for so many different reasons that the man has genuinely become a hero of sorts for the country.
What this man is doing is crazy https://t.co/2t7WDk2553
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) June 5, 2017
He still has his critics, he always will.
Anybody who isn't afraid to tell people what he really believes in will stand out and he'll attract unhappy response from people with different viewpoints.
So McClean has taken abuse for not wearing a poppy, for talking politics, for representing Northern Ireland at under-21 level before switching allegiance. He's bloody taken abuse for the way he plays football. If you do what you want to do in life, you're going to upset people and that's the sad reality of it.
However, in an interview with the Derry Journal, the 28-year-old showed real maturity when asked firstly about the prospect of playing Northern Ireland in a playoff and then about both sides going to Russia for the World Cup.
"I'd rather finish top of the group to be honest and not go through the playoff route," McClean spoke with Kevin McLaughlin.
"It's in our hands and, if we win our four games, we'll be top of the group no matter what.
"If that's the case, that we get the playoffs, to finish first or second in this group is some achievement because it's a tough group. So we'll fear no-one. But, first and foremost, let's try and get that first spot."
It wasn't like he was just being coy or clever either. McClean wished Michael O'Neill's team well in their pursuit of qualification.
"It'd be brilliant to have the north and south of Ireland in the one tournament," he said.
"It brings a sea of green and a lot of noise.
"But I'm only worried about if we get there. I don't care about anyone else, if I'm being honest. If we get to the World Cup, that's the pinnacle of football. The Euros were great but the World Cup would be special."
A topic like that could so easily have sparked controversy for a figure like McClean. But his comments were measured and reasoned. His loyalties, never in doubt.
Watch from 2:48 below.