James McClean has backed the Republic of Ireland’s new generation to fulfil their potential after calling time on his international career. The 34-year-old won his 103rd and last Ireland cap in Tuesday night’s 1-1 friendly draw with New Zealand and bade an emotional farewell to team-mates and fans alike after a 11 and a half years in the green shirt during which he played at the finals of two major tournaments. McClean may not be the only man whose time in the international set-up has drawn to a close, with manager Stephen Kenny now out of contract and not expecting an extension after a disappointing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, although the Wrexham defender is convinced the foundations he has put in place will pay dividends.
Speaking after the game, he said: “I’m going to call it how I see it. There is so much ability here. These lads are young – that’s not making excuses for them. International football is a whole different level. “These will get better with experience and with that experience, I’ve no doubt that down the line, these lads will bring the glory days back – and when I say glory days, I mean qualifying for major tournaments. “They just need to believe in themselves because the ability is there, it’s just getting that consistency and doing it every single game, and I’ve no doubt that will come with experience.” McClean knows what it takes to qualify for tournaments having represented Ireland at both Euro 2012 and ast France 2016, too. It was at the latter that the Republic secured one of their most significant victories, a 1-0 win over Italy in Lille which set up a last-16 clash with hosts France. McClean said: “That night in Lille when we beat Italy was… I’ve said this before, I wish you could bottle that because if you could bottle that and sell it, you’d be laughing. Absolutely phenomenal. “It’s been absolutely amazing. From the second I stepped on the pitch against the Czech Republic in 2012, the fans here in the stadium have been absolutely phenomenal, home and away. “That was something again that was very special. I pride myself on how your nearest and dearest, your team-mates, view you as a person and tonight that showed how they viewed me. “I’ve struck up some great relationships with the lads over the years and it’s something that I will miss, the camaraderie around the squad and going into battle with these lads.” McClean announced his decision to step back from international football last month and had no regrets about doing so after his final appearance. He said: “I think this is the right time to go. Not many people get to go out on their terms. I’ve had the absolute time of my life. I’ve achieved so much. Beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve had my time. “The lads were saying tonight, ‘why didn’t you cry? I would have cried’. But I don’t see the need to cry because like I said, I had the time of my life. I’ve had so many happy memories and it’s been an absolute honour.”
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