JAMES McClean further emphasised his meteoric rise under Martin O’Neill with a third goal of the season to seal Sunderland’s 1-0 success at Stoke City.
But O’Neill believes McClean may not be the last of Sunderland’s rookies to make a successful transition from the reserves to the first-team.
Eight of Sunderland’s youngsters are currently out on loan in the Football League, with the likes of Ryan Noble, Louis Laing and John Egan all featuring on the bench for the Black Cats first-team this season.
O’Neill has pledged that they will not be promoted to the senior set-up before they are ready, yet pointed to the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey who he developed into England internationals after handing them their chance at previous clubs Aston Villa and Leicester.
But for the moment all eyes are on McClean as the 22-year-old’s strike settled the weather-scarred battle at the Britannia Stadium.
O’Neill said: “He seems really level-headed, he’s enjoying every minute of it and I met his father and younger brother for the first time last week.
“They are delighted with him, as am I. He’s a great kid and he wants to learn.”
Read more about Sunderland’s new-found star, plus a full match report on his team’s win at Stoke, reaction and photos in today’s Sportmail.