FORMER Sunderland player Kevin Kilbane believes the pressure is building for Ireland’s James McClean to be handed his tournament debut against World Cup-holders Spain this week.
McClean, the Black Cats’ Young Player of the Season and the Republic’s most exciting emerging talent, was an unused sub as the Republic lost their first Group C game against Croatia on Sunday.
And Kilbane, a pundit at the tournament, questioned boss Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision to bring on West Brom striker Simon Cox and play him on the left as Ireland chased the game, rather than call McClean or fellow left-winger Stephen Hunt into action.
Now Kilbane – who spent four years on Wearside before leaving in 2003, and has also won more than 100 caps for Ireland – reckons Trapattoni has to make changes against Spain on Thursday and McClean might get his moment.
“There’s been big talk over the last few weeks about James McClean,” said Kilbane.
“His inclusion in the squad has been a big thing for the Irish supporters, so I think every Irishman and woman would have thought he would be the natural man to come in on that left wing – or maybe Stephen Hunt.
“They are both impact players who can come off the bench to change a game.
“Instead, by playing Simon Cox out of position in a game like that, Trapattoni left himself open to criticism.
“I think he will make changes for the next game.
“He will probably get some criticism in the Irish media for his substitutions in the first game, leaving two natural left-sided players on the bench to bring in a centre-forward Cox on in that wide left position.
“In typical Giovanni Trapattoni fashion, though, he will pick the team as he sees fit.”
A tetchy Trapattoni was bullish about his decision to leave McClean kicking his heels, fully aware there is a big desire in the Irish media and the Irish public to give the young 23-year-old free rein.
“I have a duty,” he said. “It would have been his first competitive game. When there are senior, experienced players in this situation, maybe there is tension. You can understand how much more tense a young player can be.
“It’s important we give them a quiet opportunity, not when we need their performance under pressure. It’s a heavy weight on his shoulders.”
Heavy weight or not, McClean is bound to come into the reckoning in a game against the World Cup champions that the Republic need to take something from if they are to keep alive realistic hopes of progress.
Trapattoni said: “Spain are the World champions. They have 10 players playing for Real Madrid, 10 players playing for Barcelona.
“We know their technique, we know their quality, we know but I can also remind you of the Champions League final - Bayern against Chelsea. Bayern played 70 minutes and had 17 corners and one corner for Chelsea, and Chelsea won. Football is so.”