Of course, no sooner had McClean started a game then the speculation began about whether he should be going to the Euros with Ireland this summer. The jury remains out on whether he’s up to making that jump this early in his development even if the story has legs mostly because he used to play for Northern Ireland. In any case, all previous evidence regarding Trapattoni’s rather conservative approach to squad selection suggests this debate seems to be moot. Even if he called him belatedly into the squad for the forthcoming friendly against the Czech Republic, does anybody really see the Italian catapulting somebody onto the plane after half a season starting in England?
Think about it. McClean grew up in the Creggan in Derry city. Indeed, it’s uplifting to read locals up there talk about seeing this player put in so much extra work over the years to try to make it in the game. But he played all of his soccer in his formative years with Trojans, a club that play in the Derry and District League, a competition which ultimately is overseen by the IFA. Like any promising kid in Northern Ireland, he saw action in the Milk Cup, the annual festival of international football that takes place there. He played for Northern Ireland in that event.
Why is this important? It’s important because qualifying for the European Championships this summer is going to gloss over a lot of what is wrong with the game in the Republic of Ireland. The country will wring so much fun out of the fortnight in Poland that it will seem churlish to point out the conveyor belt of southern Irish talent isn’t exactly overworked of late. And hasn’t been for some time. The FAI can take credit for McClean switching allegiances but they made no contribution to his growth as a player and that is, unfortunately, part of a disturbing pattern.
When called upon by David Moyes, Duffy has starred for an injury-hit Everton this season, playing like a veteran central defender despite the fact he’s just twenty. Already, there’s a sense around Goodison Park that this guy could turn into a true stalwart. This will benefit the Republic of Ireland hugely, but he’s a Northern Ireland product. Aside from learning his trade with Foyle Harps in Derry, Duffy played alongside McLean for the Northern Ireland U-19s in the 2008 Milk Cup. Indeed, that was where and when Everton spotted his ability and started to go after his signature.
Why aren’t there more players born in the Republic of Ireland coming through to star for Premier League clubs and to knock on the doors of the international squad? How come a tiny place like Northern Ireland can produce McClean and Duffy (and even Darron Gibson now that he looks like becoming a player again!) in such a short spell? What are the Scots doing so right than they end up bringing forth the likes of McGeady and McCarthy? Aside from Seamus Coleman, where are the Irish equivalents? Where are the Roy Keanes, the Damien Duffs and the Robbie Keanes of this generation? Are they there at all or do we have to wait for Northern Ireland to put in more work so the FAI can pick the low-hanging fruit?