Gareth McAuley says he cannot defend his friend and former teammate James McClean after the latest social media controversy.
McClean has been fined the maximum two weeks’ wages, apologised and agreed to delete his Instagram account after an ill-judged attempt at a joke in mid-week involving a paramilitary-style balaclava.
And he is sure the Stoke City manager will be mad too.
McAuley said: “Having played under Michael O’Neill, now manager of James at Stoke, he’ll be fuming that an incident like this has placed the spotlight on one of his top players for all the wrong reasons.
“The club have backed him so much in recent months that they’ll think this is a slap in their face.
“Michael will be annoyed that this is a distraction when the focus should be on supporting the country and NHS against this deadly coronavirus. He prefers low maintenance players in his squads – that’s why he is so frustrated by Kyle Lafferty.”
He added: “He had to be encouraged to do it by one of his so called ‘friends’, I’m not convinced he would have thought of it himself. But he would have known it would have been seen offensive.
“His club, Stoke City, were quick to act, fining him the maximum two weeks wages and ordering him to remove his Instagram account and as his friend, I can’t defend him – it was needless and wrong.
“I believe it undermines everything he has said about him being singled out and targeted when fans shout stuff about the IRA to him.
“It throws a shadow of doubt over him and is anybody in authority going to take him seriously now?”
McAuley has highlighted McClean’s contradictions – suggesting on one hand he could be “daft, stupid and irresponsible”, remembering how he bought a Lamborghini while at Sunderland before he had passed his driving test – and being egged on to eat a fish eye on a training camp.
Yet the other McClean is a tee-total “terrific trainer”.
“When it comes to football, he is a terrific trainer, giving his all, pushing himself to the extreme and in some regards maybe does too much,” said McAuley.
“Football wise, you will not find someone who works harder and his tackling is raw and full blooded.
“He doesn’t drink, looks after himself physically and it was this dedication that I admired about James at West Brom.”
He added: “James is a decent, talented footballer and I had a lot of time for him when we were together at West Brom. But his actions off the pitch have defined his career and that is incredibly sad.”