James McClean is banking on the Republic of Ireland’s big-game mentality to force them back into Euro 2024 contention.
Ireland belatedly registered their first win of the qualifying campaign at the third time of asking when they beat Gibraltar 3-0 in Dublin on Monday evening.
Coming after a hard-fought 1-0 home defeat by France and a less-impressive display in a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Greece in Athens on Friday night, victory was the very least they needed ahead of September’s trip to Paris and the Netherlands’ visit to the Aviva Stadium three days later.
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny came in for stern criticism after defeat in Athens (Niall Carson/PA)
Asked about the Dutch in particular, McClean, who won his 100th senior cap against Gibraltar, said: “I don’t want to create headlines and be disrespectful, but they seem to have a lot of very good individual players, but maybe as a team they are not where they want to be and hopefully we can exploit that.
“I actually think we perform better in the big games, as you have seen here against France.”
Realistically, Ireland will need to get the better of the Netherlands over the two fixtures if they are to stand any chance of escaping from Group B, and the odds remain heavily stacked against them despite Monday’s win.
They went into that game having been roundly criticised for their performance in Athens and with manager Stephen Kenny feeling the full force of a concerted backlash.
McClean, who provided assists for both Evan Ferguson and Adam Idah, said: “Nobody likes being criticised, that’s the way it is. No one likes it, but we’re not stupid. This is the game we are in.
“If you don’t perform and do well, criticism comes along with that, as does praise when you are doing well, so you have to take the bad with the good.
James McClean (pictured) provided assists for both Evan Ferguson and Adam Idah on Monday night (Niall Carson/PA)
“We bounced back. It’s a massive win to take us into September and hopefully we can pull off one of those famous wins.”
Ireland boast famous wins over then world champions Germany and at Euro 2016, fellow aristocrats Italy in the recent past, but under Kenny have fallen heart-breakingly short, if only just, against Portugal and France.
However, McClean, 34, is confident the belief and spirit which contributed so much to those landmark victories has been retained by a new-look squad.
He said: “I don’t think that’s something that can ever be questioned, the togetherness in the Irish team.
“There is a lot of ability in those young lads. If you can get them playing with confidence, you are on to a winner. Hopefully they can create special memories for themselves.”
McClean added his own special memory on Monday when he completed his century and was presented with his 100th cap by President Michael D Higgins before kick-off.
He said: “Having my family on the pitch, the president of the association and of the country handing me an honour, the reception of the crowd, having the whole family there, the way the lads treated me this week leading up to it and how they treated me after the game… Look, it couldn’t have gone any better.”