O'Neill backs McClean for Euros
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill thinks James McClean can make his mark on the European stage if he wins a place in Giovanni Trapattoni's squad.
The 23-year-old former Derry City winger will discover on Monday if he has earned a trip to the Euro 2012 finals with the Republic of Ireland after a stunning six months on Wearside.
Trapattoni has already indicated that McClean has a "90 to 99 per cent chance" of making the 23 for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine, and O'Neill is keeping everything crossed in the hope that a man who has sprung to international contention in spectacular style gets the chance to show what he can do for his country.
The Ulsterman said: "I am not saying to put him into the team - I am not saying anything, really, because Trapattoni doesn't need me to pick his team, he is doing that pretty well himself.
"He has had a great couple of years there. The Republic are going there with tried and trusted players, players who have played for him and who have eked out results for him.
"But for James, it would be a fantastic experience, for a start. I actually believe he could make a contribution, even if it was coming off the bench.
"I would say that anyway, but he's been terrific for us, really terrific, and he would certainly not be out of place, far from it. In fact, he could make a mark in that competition.
"But if he is not chosen for it, myself I wouldn't be too down-hearted about it.
"Maybe it would give him a chance in the summertime to just reflect on how well he has done and what he can maybe achieve next year, staying clear of serious injury, of course."
McClean, who was capped for the first time at senior level in February, was signed by former Black Cats manager Steve Bruce for a bargain £350,000 during the summer, but did not get his chance in the Premier League until O'Neill's first game at the helm against Blackburn on December 11.
He came on as a substitute with his side trailing 1-0 and made an instant impact as he helped to inspire a fightback which saw Sebastian Larsson clinch victory with a last-gasp free-kick.
O'Neill said: "Particularly when he came on against Blackburn, it seemed a pivotal moment.
"He electrified the crowd and really, he hasn't allowed his performances to drop too much since then. In fact, I think he has surpassed expectation.
"It's been three and a half months of just excellence from him, and naturally I'm delighted.
"He may well have surprised himself, really, by his consistency."
McClean's emergence coincided with a drastic improvement in Sunderland's Barclays Premier League fortunes, and although they find themselves somewhat becalmed in mid-table heading into Sunday's penultimate game of the season at Fulham, their top-flight status has been effectively assured for some time.
They remain hopeful of edging their way into the top half of the table before a summer overhaul with skipper Lee Cattermole having set his sights on matching the achievements of high-flying neighbours Newcastle this time around.
Asked if his captain's aspirations are realistic, O'Neill said: "Not every Sunderland fan will be delighted with what I am saying here, but Newcastle have had a terrific season, really terrific.
"I watched them on Wednesday night and they have done exceptionally well, everybody concerned with the football club has, so they have had a great season.
"The very fact is they are right in the mix for a Champions League position with two games to go - that speaks volumes for the season that they have had.
"For us to emulate that, we would have to be doing some. But why not?
"We start afresh again next year and we would obviously want to try to improve on this year."