James McClean was the final guest on the first episode of the first Paddy Kielty-presented Late Late Show on Friday night. The Derry man spoke of receiving his 100th cap earlier in the year and his international future, as well as being on the receiving end of sectarian abuse and being diagnosed with autism.
It was McClean's first-ever appearance on the programme. With Co. Down native Kielty presenting the show, it was no surprise to see Northern Ireland centre stage on Friday's season premiere. Former President Mary McAleese spoke powerfully about a United Ireland and McClean was a fascinating guest.
It's difficult to imagine McClean being allowed the space to articulate his own views on the British army on previous iterations of the Late Late, but the Wrexham player - whose wife Erin also contributed to the interview from the first row - spoke candidly about his own experiences as a father and a footballer in the UK.
McClean was praised in particular for speaking about his autism diagnosis, which he shared earlier this year. He spoke movingly of his own daughter Willowy-Ivy, who also has been diagnosed with autism.
— The Late Late Show (@RTELateLateShow) September 15, 2023
James McClean on the Late Late Show - 'people think I'm mad'
McClean also spoke about the sectarian abuse he is regularly forced to confront from the terraces from people who are offended by his refusal to wear the poppy.
They seem themselves as quite arrogant, superior. That's a bit of a frustration because I understand their beliefs, I don't go around pushing my beliefs on them. what I ask in return is...people have different backgrounds, people have different upbringings, different beliefs. You have yours, I have mine. Respect that. But I won't try to force mine on you. Over there, it's trying to be forced upon me. And that's where I have an issue.
Asked what people in England make of him, McClean was blunt.
"The perception is different from reality. People think I'm mad."
There was football talk as well. McClean hinted strongly that the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign will be his last with the Republic of Ireland.
"When you get older unfortunately all good things come to an end. There's still four games left in this calendar year so it won't be before that. In a year's time when that campaign comes around I'll make a decision," he said.
McClean hinted on his instagram account after the defeat to the Netherlands on Sunday that it might be time to consider his international future, and it seemed that retirement could be imminent. He wrote:
“Bitterly disappointing ending to the night after the ideal start, personally now its time to reflect on whats next”
McClean described embattled Ireland manager Stephen Kenny as "top-notch" and testified to his passion for the job, but wouldn't be drawn on questions about Kenny's future, other than acknowledging the results had been disappointing in this campaign.
The Wrexham player also spoke about his ambitions after football, and effectively ruled a career as a a manager as he doesn't enjoy coaching.