In the long and distinguished history of sport in the Republic of Ireland, few men can claim to have become centurions for their country. In both rugby and football circles, only an elite group of iconic performers have made it past that particular mark.
There are some stellar names on those lists, from Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best to Robbie Keane and Shay Given. Rubbing shoulders with these legends of the game is no easy task, with levels of consistency and longevity required that few are able to achieve.
— phil (@PhilVisualss) February 17, 2021
One man is, however, edging towards that star-studded pack in the present. Ireland’s football team may have missed out on a place at the 2022 World Cup, with football tips today siding with others when it comes to a pursuit of global glory – as Brazil top that market at 5/1 just ahead of defending champions and 6/1 shots France – but attention has already shifted towards a Euro 2024 qualification campaign.
Stephen Kenny continues to be charged with the task of delivering on expectations when it comes to securing tickets for major tournaments, and he has sought to blend pedigree with potential when piecing together any given squad.
Among those to have figured prominently in his thoughts is James McClean, with the Derry native having become a mainstay for Ireland across a decade of loyal service. Having made his senior international bow against the Czech Republic in February 2012, he remains an important part of the fold some 10 years on.
McClean has never taken in fewer than five appearances for his country across any given calendar year and is fast closing in on a personal milestone that should fill him with pride. It does, of course, remain to be seen whether a notable line can be crossed, but the expectation is that he will get there sooner rather than later.
By the autumn of 2022, a winger plying his club trade at Wigan Athletic for the second time in his career had accumulated 94 caps. That haul is enough to place him seventh on an all-time appearance list, with only century-makers now ranking above him.
McClean has said of joining that pack: “The 100th cap? That depends on a lot of things – form, being picked, injuries, et cetera. If it’s to happen, a lot can happen between now and then. Look, as the old boring cliche goes, ‘one game at a time’.”
The right approach is being favoured there as any assumptions of an individual landmark being hit are likely to result in eyes being taken off the ball both metaphorically and physically.
Birthday wishes to James McClean! ☘️ pic.twitter.com/gj6Rdjpi99
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) April 22, 2022
Ireland have two more UEFA Nations League games to take in for 2022, against Scotland and Armenia, and said outings will nudge McClean ever closer to that 100-cap mark if he is to figure in both contests.
Shortly after those fixtures are completed, on October 9, the draw for Euro 2024 qualifying will take place. At that point, a route to the finals in Germany will be mapped out. Games will begin in March 2023, with McClean set to be within touching distance by that point of etching his name alongside the immortals.