Test cricket at Chester-le-Street wasn’t greatly inspiring so Pete Sixsmith was able to get his teeth, as promised, into the James McClean departure. This is the second and final part of our look at the transfer; the first is at https://safc.blog/2013/08/mcclean-break-1-bitter-disappointment-as-he-joins-wigan-or-good-riddance/ …
So, Farewell then
You arrived like a starburst in our team
But left a bit like that Opal Fruit
That gets stuck in the corner of your pocket
(In the style of EJ Thribb, aged 17 and a half)
There are few who will ever forget the wonderful start that James McClean made to his Sunderland career.
A goal down to a poor Blackburn Rovers side and showing all the frailties under new manager Martin O’Neill that we had exhibited in the latter days of Steve Bruce, McClean’s arrival on the scene lifted the crowd and the team as he scorched past the Rovers full back and placed a perfect cross in the penalty area.
Goals from Vaughan and Larsson won the game for us and, as all know, we went on a storming run until the wheels came off the bus at home to Everton. The Derry man made a considerable contribution to the O’Neill revival, scoring and setting up goals with equal aplomb.
We shook our heads and wondered how the inept Bruce could have failed to use this wonderful talent and, even as he tailed off at the end of the season (as did the reast of the team) we looked forward to him tormenting Premier League defenders for a long time.
It didn’t happen. Was it because he did not have a trick or was it a part of his mindset that prevented him from kicking on last season?
Looking at the first one, he was, quite clearly, worked out. He liked to push the ball past the full back and then run onto it. If the full back was unaware of what he was going to do (as he was in the halcyon days of winter 2012) he was devastating.
But good coaches and watchers soon made it clear that to stop him it was imperative that the full back was aware of what James was going to do. Good, strong full backs took note and made sure that he didn’t play push and run with them. They pushed him further up field and frustrated his attempts to get past them. He struggled.
Martin O’Neill realised that this was happen and brought Steve Guppy, a tricky winger in his time, to try and work with him so that he could develop some new tricks. Alas, like James Bolam, he found the scripts too much for him and we never saw anything other than the push and run, dog chasing a balloon that we had seen in that Blackburn game.
He had seemed like a breath of fresh air in his early interviews. He was going to take the great opportunity that he had been given after playing in the League of Ireland for Derry City and he was determined not to blow it.
But, as he became an established player, he perhaps began to believe what he read in the papers and on his Twitter account. He castigated his international manager Trapattoni for not picking him for a friendly, an unbelievable thing for a 22 year old from nowhere to do to a man who had experienced just about everything that football had to offer.
He avowed his support for the Republican cause in Northern Ireland (not a difficult thing for a Derry Catholic to do) and then got into a bitter row over the poppy shirt, something which I could understand him wanting to reject because of his background. I quite admired him for his stand, but not for the squabbles that he got involved in through the social media.
For many Sunderland fans, he was an outcast after this and he was booed by a significant number of them. His form dipped and when O’Neill left and Di Canio arrived, the writing was very much on the wall for him.
He was not going to play regularly under the Italian, so a move looked the best bet for him and for the club. Wigan may be a good fit for him and it gives him a chance to start again in an environment which is not as intense as the North East and where the Championship full backs that he will be up against may not be as smart as the Premier League ones who worked him out.
Apparently, he has taken a wage cut to go to Pie Heaven, which indicates that he wants to play regularly. Should things not work out for him on the football side at the DW Stadium, I have a feeling that he could become a powerhouse in the centre for the other tenants, the Wigan Warriors.
We shall see, but that initial impact is something I shall always remember. A shame that it didn’t work out at
Sunderland for him – but sound business by the manager and the club to move him on.
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