By Damian Spellman, PA
James McClean has pleaded for patience as Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny comes under intense pressure with World Cup qualification all but out of his grasp.
Kenny, who replaced Mick McCarthy as manager last year, woke on Monday morning to speculation he could be out of a job if Ireland lose to Serbia in Dublin on Tuesday evening after a return of just one point from the first four Group A fixtures left them on the brink of elimination.
Wigan’s McClean, who lined up at left wing-back in Saturday evening’s draw with Azerbaijan, acknowledges that a return of one win in 15 games and none in 11 competitive matches under Kenny is not good enough but has hit out at the “over the top” reaction.
He said: “You’ve got young players out and I don’t want to use it as a cop-out but these lads, this is their first time playing international football, this is a manager in his first time in international football.
“We are going a different path to what Ireland teams have produced in years in terms of style of football.
“Not even that, you take into consideration the whole Covid thing, this is the first time these young lads are playing in front of crowds, and that spurs you on alone, so obviously I’d ask for patience with him.
“Football, it’s cut-throat, the media’s harsh and I ask for a bit of patience. But when you’re not winning games, it falls on deaf ears and I can understand that.”
McClean, 32, is a veteran of Ireland’s Euro 2012 and Euro 2016 finals campaigns under Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill respectively and insists Kenny’s plight is not new, with O’Neill having gone through something similar after a 5-1 play-off defeat by Denmark in Dublin which ended their hopes of a trip to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
He said: “I go back to Martin O’Neill. That World Cup campaign was a fantastic campaign until the very last game and then the daggers, the knives, were out after the 5-1.
“I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is madness, this is astonishing, actually, the reaction’ considering the group we were in and how close we came.
“After Wales, we were brilliant, we were unbelievable, nobody could speak highly enough of us. But after Denmark, it was a complete over-the-top reaction and I think that’s always going to be the case.
“We’re going through a difficult period at the minute, but reactions – even from people who were supportive at the start – have completely flipped and it’s just gone completely the other way.
“If we win Tuesday night and put a run of wins together, the same people with the knives out now will be the biggest supporters again. Football’s fickle and that’s the way it is.”
Kenny’s brave new world has seen a series of young players thrust into the limelight – 19-year-olds Gavin Bazunu and Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, 20, 21-year-old Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby, 22, all started against Azerbaijan – and McClean admits they have perhaps not been nursed through in the same way he was by the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane.
He said: “I was quite fortunate. When we came in as young players, we came into the great squad of… men. That’s what it was, a squad full of men who were absolutely fantastic in helping us.
“Now we have a bigger role as senior players to help the young players coming through, and maybe so far we haven’t done that.”