Although James McClean is unlikely to make Ireland’s starting line-up at Euro 2012, the pace and energy he can provide from the bench could be vital if they are to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Ireland are 4/1 in the Euro 2012 odds just to progress beyond Group C and this is understandable given that they have European big guns Spain and Italy to take on, alongside Croatia.
Although getting a result off defending champions and reigning World Cup holders Spain looks a big ask, it is not out of the question that they can snatch second spot in the group.
Ireland are unbeaten in their last three meetings with Italy, a run which includes a 2-0 victory in their most recent encounter in a friendly in Liege last year.
Meanwhile, they were also seconds away from a success in a World Cup qualifier in this period until Alberto Gilardino conjured up an injury-time equaliser.
Furthermore, Italy have significantly underperformed at the big tournaments in the last 20 years, falling at the group stages in two of the last four European Championships.
Things did not go much better at the last World Cup as they again made a group stage exit after taking just two points against supposed weaker teams New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s team have also not been beaten in their three showdowns with Croatia dating back to 1999.
McClean was not even on the brink of the Ireland squad when they sealed their qualification to Euro 2012 with victory over Estonia, but has flourished under the guidance of Martin O’Neill at Sunderland.
The 23-year-old has scored six goals in 29 appearances and Sunderland’s win percentage has almost doubled with McClean in their team.
Looking at the remainder of Ireland’s 23-man squad, the big omissions are Seamus Coleman, who is one of five reserves, and Wigan’s James McCarthy, who asked to be left out because of family issues.