ON the day one Republic of Ireland international left Sunderland, another Black Cats player joined their ranks.
James McClean was belatedly called up by Giovanni Trapattoni hours after former player, manager and chairman Niall Quinn left his boardroom post.
He did so with Martin O’Neill hailing him as a club “icon”.
McClean was controversially left out of the Republic’s initial squad for next week’s friendly at home to the Czech Republic.
Yesterday, the 22-year-old was called up along with Derby County midfielder Paul Green.
He tweeted he was “absolutely buzzin(g) and honoured to be called up to represent my country . . . best feeling there is”.
McClean’s initial exclusion was surprising because he has been in such outstanding form since Black Cats boss O’Neill promoted him to the first team.
The former Northern Ireland captain watched McClean play for the second string in his first days as manager on Wearside.
He was on the bench for O’Neill’s opening game, against Blackburn Rovers in December, and made an instant impact.
Signed from Derry City last summer for £350,000, the winger had been on the bench eight times under Steve Bruce without leaving it. He has been involved in all but one of O’Neill’s matches.
McClean has scored four times, and created or scored goals in seven of the club’s last eight league games.
His selection has been no less controversial than the decision to originally overlook him, however.
McClean is the latest Northern Ireland-born player to use the Good Friday Agreement to switch allegiance to the Republic.
He is from Londonderry – close to the border with the Republic, with a largely Catholic population.
Derry play in the Republic’s League of Ireland – and his selection met with unpleasant abuse via the social networking site Twitter.
Veteran manager Trapattoni explained last week his decision to leave McClean out of a squad featuring club-mates John O’Shea and Keiren Westwood as an act of loyalty to those who qualified for Euro 2012. He promised McClean a part in the future.
The game is a week tomorrow at Lansdowne Road.
Meanwhile, O’Neill paid tribute to Quinn, who left the Stadium of Light boardroom after six years – but not before finally persuading him to take over as Sunderland manager.
O’Neill said: “Niall has been a truly iconic figure at Sunderland, both as a player and in his time leading the club from the top.
“His vision and drive, alongside that of Ellis (Short, his successor as chairman), played a significant part in me coming here.
“Like everyone, I could not be more disappointed he has decided to step down, but I respect and understand his decision.
“He has been the heartbeat of the football club for so long and his legacy is immeasurable. To me, he is ‘Mr Sunderland’ – and always will be.”
Quinn headed the Drumaville consortium which bought the club from Bob Murray after relegation from the Premier League in 2006, taking over as chairman and caretaker- manager.
Quinn was relieved to hand over control of the first team to former international team-mate Roy Keane, who guided Sunderland to the Championship.
A yo-yo club during Murray’s latter years, they have remained in the Premier League ever since.
Irish-based Quinn handed over the chairman reins to owner Short late last year, becoming director of international development.
Like O’Neill, Short owes his involvement in the club to Quinn, who persuaded him to invest when the Irish recession made it impossible for Drumaville to keep control.
Short said: “Niall Quinn is and always will be a Sunderland legend.
“His vision brought me into the club and still inspires what we do.
“He has been a trusted friend and advisor throughout our time at Sunderland and, while I am sad about his departure, I respect his view his ‘work is done’. My job is to carry on that work.”
Quinn had six years as a Sunderland player. After joining from Manchester City for £1.3m he scored 69 goals in 220 appearances, forming a strike partnership with Kevin Phillips that was one of the club’s finest.