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Alan Cawley's Airtricity League blog

Updated: Tuesday, 27 Mar 2012 07:58 | Comments

James McClean has taken the Barclays Premier League by storm and should have a place in the Ireland team at Euro 2012, says Alan Cawley
James McClean has taken the Barclays Premier League by storm and should have a place in the Ireland team at Euro 2012, says Alan Cawley

It has been a fantastic time all around for Derry City recently.

Firstly, they beat their arch-enemies Linfield to reach the Setanta Cup semi-finals on Tuesday and then they followed it up with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at home to Cork City in the Airtricity League three days later.

To top it all off, their former player James McClean gave a Man of the Match performance for his new team Sunderland on Saturday shortly after signing a new long-term contract with the club.

Things seem to be going from strength to strength in the Brandywell and we all know about the progress McClean has made since joining the top flight in England.

McClean’s four-year deal at Sunderland is richly deserved. The now Republic of Ireland international has taken the Premier league by storm. For a player that was playing in the domestic league just a year ago, it is a truly remarkable achievement.

I didn’t think he would make the switch from Airtricity to Premier League with such apparent ease and perform to that standard with such consistency.

What did he have in his favour at Derry? A chance. It was a thriving Derry City buoyed by a rebirth of the club that provided an excellent grooming for a move across the water.

This is where that growing list of players that have made the grade in England following spells in Ireland comes to mind.

Perhaps McClean has been the most impressive. The Derry fans will have great memories of him, like that wonder goal in Terryland Park, and he played a big part in their success back in the Premier Division last season.

Supporters in Sligo, Cork and Inchicore amongst others will also remember fondly the Republic of Ireland internationals that once graced their squads.

There is a lot being made about the gaps in the transfer market between clubs in the Premier League now. Aston Villa, a one-time big spender when Randy Lerner arrived, are a good example.

Lerner has been ordering the scaling back of the wage bill and it seems big-money transfers this summer will be few and far between.

Enda Stevens made the move to Villa earlier this year from Shamrock Rovers. Whether or not signing players from the League of Ireland for decent transfer fees by our standards will be a long-term policy in England remains to be seen.

But it does show that there is plenty of quality in our league and big clubs are willing to take a punt when they can’t splash out millions of pounds to complete a squad.

Like most of the country, or at least the crowd in the Aviva Stadium for the friendly with the Czech Republic last month, I am a huge fan of McClean.

We’re just hoping that Mr Trappatoni is taking note because if he is not, then there is definitely something wrong with his selection process.

Not only should he have a seat on the plane to the European Championships, but in this form, a starting spot in the first group-game against Croatia is deserved.

He is big, strong, powerful, very direct, an excellent crosser of a ball and he has a good attitude with bags of enthusiasm.

McClean is fearless as he is proving this week-in and week-out in England by taking on top players and showing them he has their betterment.

A massive tournament like the European Championships is something he would relish and I don’t think it would faze him.

The Derry fans are already speaking about his successor and what form he has shown this season for the Candystripes.

Since McClean departed, Stephen McLaughlin has been outstanding and there were Premier League scouts in the Brandywell again last Friday.

Going on the evidence so far, he is another player with an outstanding chance of making it further.

Whatever they are feeding the young kids in Foyleside is certainly working and McClean may well just be the start of it.

Dalymount debacle

On Sunday I tuned-in to the live Airtricity Premier Division game between Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic. It was the poorest game I have seen in a very long time and that is being kind.

For a big Dublin derby it lacked tempo, intensity and most of all quality. Normally this is unforgivable from the players. Where I can defend them is the condition of the Dalymount Park pitch. It was a disgrace.

Televised games should showcase the talent we have in the league and for the players to be asked to play on a pitch like this four weeks into the season is just not fair.

One commentator described it as a car park and that is just not good enough for the highest standard of football in this country.

I totally understand times are a lot tougher financially and especially for the home team in question, but the pitch is where you have to prioritise. Clubs have to give their players every opportunity to perform at their optimum level and on a pitch like that, it is impossible.

The issue has been spoken about already with a couple of clubs reportedly having poor surfaces and, hopefully, the teams in question address it.

Overall throughout my career the standard of pitches were excellent. Obviously back then there was more money around and teams could afford to make sure they had pristine surfaces.

However, that can’t be used as an excuse as the most important facility in a football club is the pitch. It is a necessity to maintain it to a standard fit for your team to perform to their best and give a club every chance of being successful.

Hopefully steps are taken soon and we can talk about stuff on the pitch rather than the standard of them.

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