Hot Press had a most enjoyable post-training chat yesterday with James McClean, the former Sunderland winger who’s flourishing again under Martin O'Neill as part of the Ireland squad that tomorrow takes on a very decent looking Serbian side in the Aviva.
“Decent's right,” he agrees. “They were a bit unlucky not to make it to the World Cup. They've got some top Premier League talent in Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic who are both doing fantastically well at Chelsea, plus lads who are in Serie A and La Liga. They're a big physical side too, so it'll be a genuine test of where we are now as a group ourselves. We played some decent stuff against Latvia last time out at the Aviva, but Serbia are a far, far tougher prospect.”
Echoing what David Forde told Hot Press before Christmas, the 24-year-old says: “These games don't feel like friendlies. Everyone's really out to impress Martin and Roy and stake a claim for the European qualifiers. I’m sure they’ve a pretty good idea of their starting XI for those, but there will still be a couple of places up for grabs.”
Talking of which, how does James like the look of Group D?
"You obviously fancy Germany to top it, but I genuinely think we can take points off them if we're bang in form on the night," he proffers. "Arriving at Wigan during the summer, the lads were still buzzing from beating Man City in the Cup Final – no one gave them a hope, but they were at their best while City had a bit of an off-day. That happens in international football too.
“We did well against Poland in last year's friendly, and man for man the other countries aren’t any better than us. You always show opposition respect, but you don't fear them. Second place is absolutely, 100% achievable.”
You'll have to wait until Hot Press' March 20 issue for our full interview with James, but as a little appetite-whetter, GAA, Derry City, getting kicked by Seamus Coleman, Martin 'n' Roy, diving Spaniards, Paolo Di Canio, tattoos, fatherhood, fresh starts, The Coronas and the joys – and perils – of Twitter are all on the menu.
The FAI are hoping for a crowd of around 40,000 tomorrow night, with tickets still available.
Hot Press will be live tweeting from the game, so join us at a little after seven for some scene-setting. Apologies in advance if we spell any of those Serbian names wrong!
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