JAMES McCLEAN admitted it was a fairytale to play for Ireland – but stepping away means a visit to Disneyland.
McClean will play his final Ireland game tomorrow against New Zealand, bringing to an end a sterling international career with 103 caps, 11 goals and so many memories.
The 34-year-old Wrexham man believes he could play on in green, but has decided that this is the time to exit the international stage.
He said: “It’s not because of my body, or I feel my ability has diminished. I still feel as fit as ever. I still believe I am the best person for the role. I have never doubted myself.
“I played 46 games out of 46 in the Championship last season, 45 of them start.
“Ability-wise, I was second for full-backs in goals and assists, and for most successful tackles in the whole league.
“There’s other factors. I have personal reasons and my own reasons for stepping away, I feel now is the right time to step aside.
“Let others come through, I’ve had my time, I have no regrets. For me now is the perfect time to step away, I have no regrets.
“I have no plans to hang up the boots any time soon, what I am doing now after this, I will savour Tuesday.
“We never had a summer off in a long time so I promised my wife and kids what we will book Florida, go away for a month and enjoy Disneyland.”
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Asked if he could go into coaching, punditry, or politics, McClean said he is undecided but his name will definitely never appear on a ballot paper.
He said: “Politics, absolutely not, I will steer well clear of that.”
But his only focus now is on making his 103rd cap one to remember.
He said: “I’ve never hid the fact that it means everything. The Ireland jersey along with the Derry City jersey is a jersey that means more to me than anything else ever will.
“Tomorrow night for the last time, I’ll pull it on. When I say it out loud, it is a bit sad that that is going to be the case.
“But tomorrow night when I pull it on I’ll do what I have done 103 times before and I’ll try to do it with as much pride and as much justice as possible because there is no more special feeling that pulling on the green jersey and representing your country.
“The best times, not to sound too cliché, but putting on that jersey is as special as the first time.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some incredible moments in that jersey, I’ve got to play at two major tournaments.
“Unless you’re there it is very hard to put it into words and describe it to people, words don’t do it justice, and some people never get to experience it, and I’ve got to do it twice.
“Look, I’ve had incredible highs in the Ireland jersey, with a couple of lows, obviously, I would have loved to play in the World Cup, and that Denmark game, that’s something that will always hurt, but I’ve got absolutely no regrets.”
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny praised McClean, and highlighted his longevity and how he is now bowing out on his own terms.
Kenny said: “Most players don’t go out on their own terms, James is doing that now.
“Longevity in his career. I have the pleasure of giving James his debut when he was a young player at Derry City.
“He had tremendous determination and he went on to play for Sunderland and a variety of clubs he played for when he showed fortitude, real mental strength.
“Great skills as a left winger, very direct, a high number of goals and assists for a winger and always worked tirelessly for the team.
“Some fade away from top level football because age catches up with them. He adapted and became a left back or wing back, you have to be able to adapt, it was terrific really.
“It shows his quality. He deserves credit for the career he has had. 103 caps is something special.”