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O'Neill: McClean will avoid 'second season syndrome'
MARTIN O'Neill is confident James McClean will avoid 'second-season syndrome' and continue to be a crucial member of Sunderland's first team.
McClean burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion last season, appearing in 26 consecutive matches after claiming his first starting spot in the New Year's Day win over Manchester City.
The Republic of Ireland international was an unknown quantity at that stage, and opposition defences never really got to grips with his direct running and crossing ability from the left flank.
That is likely to change next season, with opponents targeting the 23-year-old from the outset, but O'Neill is confident McClean is more than good enough to continue to be a threat.
"I know people are talking about the 'second season syndrome' but I have no doubt that he has the ability and the capacity to keep it going," said the Sunderland boss.
"He has been sensational. I can remember when he came on against Blackburn Rovers (for his debut in O'Neill's first game), he gave us that little bit of extra impetus and he never really looked back after that.
"Then whenever he got his chance in terms of starting he really took his chance and played well to ensure that he kept his place in the starting line-up."
The only blip in McClean's career so far came in this summer's European Championships as he failed to start a single game despite Ireland's failure to pick up a point.
He has subsequently questioned Giovanni Trapattoni's refusal to select him for any of the matches, and while O'Neill is confident he will get over his disappointment quickly, he will offer McClean an extended break in order to clear his mind for the new campaign.
"It has been an almost fairytale like rise he has had, and getting into the European Championship squad was a part of that," said the Black Cats manager.
"Although he didn't get much game time, he still needs to get a break and come back a bit later than some of the rest of the squad and then take off from where he left off."
Meanwhile, Sunderland are close to agreeing a deal that will see record signing Asamoah Gyan join Al-Ain on a permanent basis.
The Black Cats have already received £6m as a loan fee for the Ghana international, and Al-Ain are set to pay another £6m to recruit him permanently.
Gyan will earn around £140,000 tax free as part of the deal, which should be formally confirmed next month.