JAMES McClean has thanked Martin O’Neill for helping to make his dream come true, but will not be happy to just make up the numbers at the European Championships.
The winger was a reserve when O’Neill took over as Sunderland manager.
He had been signed from Derry City in August as “one for the future”.
However, O’Neill famously watched McClean play in the second team against Manchester United in his first week and catapulted him straight into the senior squad.
Picking out a promising youngster and fast-tracking them immediately is a ploy O’Neill had used at his former clubs.
So successful has it been this time, McClean has been named in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012.
Ireland’s manager is notoriously conservative, so neither McClean’s exciting form for Sunderland nor the rapturous reception he received when he made his international debut as a substitute against Czech Republic guaranteed his selection.
With Aiden McGeady also named, McClean may find it hard to force his way onto the field in Ukraine and Poland, where the Irish face Spain, Italy and Croatia in the group stages.
He does not plan to simply go along for the ride, however.
He said: “I am like everyone else in the 23-man squad. I want to play.
“We have three very tough games against Croatia, Spain and Italy, but you want to be playing against the best and you probably cannot get any better than Spain.
“My first plan is to try and do well whenever we link up together and try to give the manager some food for thought.
“Martin O’Neill has been tremendous to me.
“He presented me with my opportunity to play in the first team and I took full advantage of that.
“He has kept me on the straight and narrow since and has helped me improve as a footballer.
“I try to work hard on my game week in and week out in order to improve and that has worked for me.
“Martin O’Neill’s appointment has certainly boosted my confidence levels and I cannot thank the man enough.”
McClean impressed as a substitute in O’Neill’s opening game, helping turn the tide at home to Blackburn Rovers and has been a regular in the side ever since.
He admits the transformation in his career has been “a wee bit unreal”.
He added: “I am over the moon to be in the squad.
“It is a dream come true to be in the Ireland squad for a major championship.
“I got a phone call from Mr Trapattoni and, although it was a nice wake-up call, I had a butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling until he told me I was in the squad.
“The last few months have been a wee bit unreal, because it was only in December when I got my chance in the Sunderland side and since that I have played more games and represented Ireland and now I’m in the Euro 2012 squad.”
The news has not been all good, McClean receiving death threats on Twitter this week from Northern Irish “fans” unhappy he has turned his back on the country of his birth.
The Good Friday Agreement allows all Irish players to choose which of the two countries they wish to represent.
A number of Northern Irish players have been called up under Trapattoni.
Meanwhile, striker Asamoah Gyan has opened talks with United Arab Emirates club Al-Ain about making his loan move permanent.
Al-Ain are reported to have paid a £6m world-record loan fee for Gyan, Sunderland’s most expensive signing.
Gyan revealed: “I am in negotiations with Al-Ain.
“I am very happy here, but there are quite a few clubs interested and I will see what is best for me.”