DON’T GO CHANGING
Duff tells Mcclean: We like you just the way you are.. as Ireland’s go-to man aims to take down the Danes
DAMIEN DUFF smiles when asked for his first impressions of James Mcclean after breaking into the Republic of Ireland squad five years ago.
The legendary ‘Duffer’ was a star of the team but nearing the end of a sparkling international career which would run its course just five games after Mcclean’s debut in February 2012. Mcclean was the springer from pack going into that summer’s European Championships in Poland with Giovanni Trapattoni naming the rookie in his 23-man squad for the finals. And Duff – capped 100 times – would ultimately retire his green shirt – on his own terms – after the final group game defeat to Italy.
Winger Mcclean was the young pretender to his throne and ahead of tomorrow’s first-leg clash with Denmark, Duff recalls: “He was a breath of fresh air.
“I’m not sure whether he had his Twitter account then but listen, he was young, naive, maybe not a lot between the ears at times.
“He was obviously starting to earn money and he was going out and spending it in Poland, buying anything and everything – Gucci here and new cars when he was back at his club.
“But that’s why the likes of John O’shea has looked after him over the years (at Sunderland) and Seamus Coleman and the squad. All the lads love him, he’s a top pro.
“He’s up and down. You can see away from the pitch he lives his life well, he doesn’t drink or anything like that. He’s important and he is affecting games for us.”
Mcclean has been Ireland’s go-to man in times of trouble in this campaign, relishing the responsibility of the talisman role Jon Walters played on the way to Euro 2016.
He turned a tricky game in Moldova on its head a year ago by scoring twice in the second-half to dig out an ultimately comfortable 3-1 win.
But his best was yet to come. Fuming with a lack of starts at West Brom this season, he has channelled that pent-up frustration and used it to good effect with Ireland.
Mcclean smashed the winner away to Austria and stepped up again with the all-important goal in Cardiff that sank Wales last month and booked this play-off spot.
But those club frustrations have been evident, not least last weekend when, according to Martin O’neill, he “lamped” Huddersfield’s Tom Ince with a crunching tackle.
And, as one of the 10 Irish players walking a suspension tightrope tomorrow night, O’neill has ordered Mcclean to cool his jets and use his head.
Ireland legend Duff said: “He’s affecting games and that’s what big players do. That’s all you can ask. He looks like a different animal playing for Ireland. It means so much to him.
“You can argue if he loses that edge, is he the same player? He scores a great goal and then he’s giving away stupid free-kicks in the last five or 10 minutes against Wales.
“But that’s a side of the game if he lost it maybe he wouldn’t be the same.
“It’s a bit like Wayne Rooney, I don’t think he’s the same now, maybe because of legs or maybe because he has lost that edge.
“You don’t want James ever to lose it, just maybe to tone down his decision making with those types of free kicks.”
But Duff added: “At the same time, when the team isn’t doing well he gets people off their arses and he gives the team momentum.
“Not with classic wing-play but by absolutely bulldozing into a 50/50 tackle. I don’t think you want him to lose things like that.”
FIT & READY TO FIGHT Midfielder Jeff Hendrick James Mcclean replaces Damien Duff for his competitive debut against Spain in 2012