James McClean: "I feel like I'm a better player now than I ever was"

The Republic of Ireland and West Brom player chats to Off The Ball about learning as a footballer and a massive result in Austria

BY Cian Roche 19:46 Monday 14 November 2016, 19:46 14 Nov 2016

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne 

James McClean admits he had no intention of squaring the ball to Jonathan Walters in Vienna, knowing in his head the only option was to shoot.

"Luckily", he says, the ball managed to squirm through the legs of Ramazan Özcan and into the net, securing a famous victory for Ireland and leaving them outright leaders at the top of their World Cup qualifying group. 

"There was no doubt about it," he told Off The Ball on Monday night. "Once I got in that position I knew I was going to shoot because again if you look back Jonny [Walters] is very closely marked.

"The pass was so good that I only needed one touch to get it into my stride to get a shot away. As soon as I was there I wanted to make sure I hit the target, because if you don't hit the target you don't score.

"It was a great feeling to see the ball hit the back of the net. It gave us a massive three points, so it was a very good night."

McClean says that the goal was a byproduct of his increasing knowledge of football and a testament to how much he has developed in recent years.

"As I get older I'm starting to learn more about the game. I'm learning to time my runs more and to be more aware of other players on the pitch. So as soon as [David] Meyler got the ball, I saw that Wes [Holohan] was free in the middle of the pitch.

"I knew if Wes got it, I was fairly confident my pace would take me past the full-back and that he wouldn't catch me. I decided to make a run as soon as Wes got it and I took off. When Wes is on the ball, you know he's going to find you and he did. Luckily I was able to put the ball away."

The goal was his third in two qualifying games, following his brace away to Moldova last month and adding that part of his game has come on slowly with his increased confidence. 

"I've been in England now four or five years now and you learn a lot. I'm learning more about myself and my game everyday. I feel like I'm a better player now than I ever was. I understand the game a lot better and I'm confident I'm playing well.

"I'm playing week in and week out in the Premier League, testing myself against high quality opposition. I've been doing it on the international stage as well and it's something I'm really enjoying."

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill appears to have taken a shine to the former League of Ireland footballer and his ability to be able to tailor himself to different positions on the pitch. McClean says that this ability was honed in the Irish domestic league.

"My education was street football. I didn't join Derry City until I was 17. I didn't have the coaching, the set-up and the platform that players in England have from an early age. I wouldn't change my football education and what I learned when I went across for anything. 

"I grew up very quickly here. We played League of Ireland football which is very tough and very physical from an early age. That left me in great stead for when I did go across."

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