JAMES McClean believes he has matured over the last few months after being dogged by off-the-field controversy last season.
The Sunderland winger came in for criticism in his first full season as a Black Cats regular after posting messages on Twitter and refusing to wear a poppy on his shirt to commemorate Remembrance Day.
Both Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni and former Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill were forced to reprimand McClean for his public indiscretions after being thrust into the limelight in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign with an explosive start to his Black Cats career.
But after a season in which his form on the pitch proved to be inconsistent, McClean insists he has learned from his mistakes.
McClean said: “Both Martin O’Neill and the manager (Trapattoni) have had a word in the past. I feel a bit bad now because I haven’t been the easiest.
“But I take that on board and I think I have matured a bit in the last few months, and I will continue to hopefully do that.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind first six months, amazing, top of the world, and then a lot of things happened in between then.
“But it will help me as a person. I will learn from all that and it will put me in good stead for the future.
“It was all new to me – I was still the same lad as I was from my time at Derry and that kind of went against me.
“I want to continue to just be me and what comes with that comes with that. But I have learnt to not say too much.”
McClean demonstrated his new-found reticence to good effect when asked about new Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio, who has come in for criticism from released Black Cats defender Titus Bramble for his disciplinary approach.
“That’s Titus’ opinion, I’ll leave that to Titus,” said McClean.
“Each manager has their different styles. He came in and he managed to get us safe, so I guess you could say ‘job done’.
“Hopefully next season, we can push on and do well.”
McClean is now hopeful of ending the season on a positive note for Ireland.
The 24-year-old set up two of Ireland’s four goals in Sunday’s friendly win over Georgia and is eager to feature in Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands.
He said: “It’s been an indifferent season at club level for me. Hopefully I am going to knock that behind me now and push on here with the Ireland squad.
“It’s been difficult for a lot of reasons which have already been well-publicised. But that’s in the past now and I want to go back sharper, better and stronger for next season and hopefully push on to where I was.
“The other day gave me a bit of confidence with the two assists, so hopefully if I am called upon again I will do a job.”