O'Neill backs McClean to shine

Sunderland forward James McClean
Sunderland forward James McClean was a revelation during his first season in the Premier League. Photo: PA

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill is tipping James McClean to go from strength to strength as he attempts to build on a stunning first season in the Barclays Premier League.

The 23-year-old former Derry City winger was a sensation in the second half of the last campaign after being handed a first senior appearance as a substitute in O'Neill's first game at the helm in December.

His form earned him a place in Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland squad for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine as his reputation grew almost by the week.

McClean, like compatriots Keiren Westwood and John O'Shea, is now back in training having been given an extended break after his summer exertions, and his club manager is expecting big things once again.

O'Neill said: "It is a big season for him. There is obviously always talk about second season syndrome, that type of stuff, but I have a good belief that I don't think it will affect him.

"He has come back, he's done exceptionally well in training here. He looks every bit as strong as he was before and he looks every bit as determined.

"I don't think those sort of things will bother him."

McClean's trip to the Euros proved a frustrating one as Ireland under-performed and he was limited to just 14 minutes on the pitch in a brief cameo against Spain.

However, O'Neill is confident the experience will stand him in good stead for the future.

He said: "I am sure it is a great experience for him. I think he was a bit disappointed that he didn't get on to the field, that's natural, but I think it will be great for him to have been involved.

"If you had spoken to him at the end of November last year and to talk about he might be disappointed at not playing in the European Championship, he would never have believed it, so he has to take all those things into consideration.

"He knows he will get an opportunity there to play for his country and really, the rest will be up to him. But he is flying at the moment."

O'Neill and his players headed for Sweden today for tomorrow's friendly against Helsingborgs, although they did so without Benin international Stephane Sessegnon and Egypt counterpart Ahmed Elmohamady, who would have had to miss a day's training to apply in person for visas.

The manager might have hoped to have several new faces among the travelling party, but to date, only former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar has been added to the squad which finished last season.

Wolves striker Steven Fletcher remains his number one target, but he has also been linked with Manchester City youngster John Guidetti and West Brom's Peter Odemwingie in recent days.

O'Neill was once again giving nothing away, but admitted the club has reached something of a stalemate.

He said: "We have made some bids for players, yes, and we are obviously in negotiations with the football clubs at this moment.

"It seems to have stalled somewhat on all fronts, but I am hoping to improve the team - I think we have to give ourselves some sort of chance for next season, I think that's pretty obvious.

"In an ideal world, I would like the players in so they could do some work before we play against Arsenal. If that's not the case, then we will work exceptionally hard to try to get the players in before the end of the month."

However, O'Neill admitted that if the Black Cats are unable to make breakthroughs with their current targets - Wolves are understood to have rejected their bid for Fletcher - they will have to consider their alternatives.

He said: "The people we want to try to get in, we will do our very, very best to do so. If those things don't materialise, then I think you have to look elsewhere."