Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has urged his young hopefuls to learn from veteran James McClean after he announced his impending retirement from international football.
The 34-year-old Wrexham midfielder revealed his intention to end his time with Ireland after 102 caps, 11 goals and two European Championship campaigns following next month’s friendly against New Zealand on Thursday morning.
Hours later, international boss Kenny, who first managed the player as a youngster at Derry City, paid tribute to both his quality and intensity after naming a 24-man squad which did not include him for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Greece and Gibraltar.
Kenny said: “He’s had a terrific career, James. Young Irish players can learn a lot from him, how he approached his career. Ireland was always at the forefront of his thoughts, it was always the pinnacle for him and it was always the most important thing, to play for his country. You had to respect that.
“From my point of view as a manager – obviously I managed him as a teenager, gave him his debut and then sold him to Sunderland. But people change in that period and obviously he’s a different personality then when I managed the Irish team (Derry) because he’s in his 30s by the time I take up the Ireland team, so he’s a different personality.
“But if there are any grey areas about who might play in the team sometimes and decisions are not made and depending on who’s available, he’s so forceful in his training performances, sometimes he gets himself in the team by just his sheer intensity in his training in the sessions.
“It’s hard to ignore him then, when someone trains like that, in the games.”
Derry-born former Sunderland, Wigan, West Brom and Stoke man McClean, who has repeatedly found himself at the centre of controversy over his decision not to wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his club shirt, had earlier spoken of his pride at representing his country over 11 years.
He said in a statement issued on social media: “It has the meant the absolute world and more to be able to pull on the green jersey with honour, step out onto a football pitch – especially at the Aviva Stadium – to represent our great country, standing singing Amhran na bhFiann ready to go out into battle with your fellow countrymen.
“Nothing has ever come close. I gave absolutely everything I had of myself to ensure that I did the jersey, the fans and the country proud, and know that I never took it for granted each time. I hope that showed.
“It will be heartbreaking not to be involved beyond this year, but I feel now is the right time to step aside without any regrets.
“I lived my own and every young Irish footballer’s dream – and represented this country with pride.”
McClean’s absence from the squad was not the only one of note, with Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher also missing after suffering a gash to his knee in training which required 12 stitches, while Sheffield United defender John Egan and Cardiff winger Callum O’Dowda are also unavailable because of injury.
However, Celtic winger Mikey Johnston and Cardiff forward Callum Robinson were included for the games against Greece in Dublin on Friday, October 13 and Gibraltar in Faro three days later.
Ireland’s hopes of qualification are all but over after Group B defeats by France and the Netherlands last month left them with just three points from a possible 15.
Squad: Gavin Bazunu (Southampton), Mark Travers (Stoke, on loan from Bournemouth), Max O’Leary (Bristol City), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Festy Ebosele (Udinese), Nathan Collins (Brentford), Shane Duffy (Norwich), Dara O’Shea (Burnley), Andrew Omobamidele (Nottingham Forest), Liam Scales (Celtic), Ryan Manning (Southampton), Josh Cullen (Burnley), Jayson Molumby (West Brom), Alan Browne (Preston), Will Smallbone (Southampton), Jason Knight (Bristol City), Jamie McGrath (Aberdeen), Mark Sykes (Bristol City), Evan Ferguson (Brighton), Adam Idah (Norwich), Aaron Connolly (Hull), Chiedozie Ogbene (Luton), Callum Robinson (Cardiff), Mikey Johnston (Celtic).