FOR far too long, Aiden McGeady was one of Sunderland’s forgotten men. Now, the former Republic of Ireland international is revelling at being centre-stage.

Having been unable to keep the Black Cats in the Championship last season, McGeady suffered a calf injury at the start of the summer that ruled him out of the vast majority of the club’s pre-season programme.

As a result, while the future of Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo was widely discussed in August, McGeady’s position as a third-tier player was largely ignored despite him having 92 senior international caps to his name.

Even when he returned to action as a substitute in September’s defeat at Burton Albion, his presence in the squad was still largely ignored, but having played against the 32-year-old on a number of occasions in Scotland, Ross was always confident McGeady would be a massive asset in League One.

That has rapidly proved to be true, with the winger having claimed five goals in Sunderland’s last five league outings. Unsurprisingly, he looks way too good for League One level, but while playing against the likes of Walsall might be considered to be beneath someone who has represented Celtic, Everton and Spartak Moscow in the past, McGeady is simply happy to be contributing to a winning team.

“I’ve spoken about all the players that remained at the club – their attitude and willingness to buy in to what we’re doing,” said Ross, whose side travel to Walsall’s Bescot Stadium in the second round of the FA Cup this afternoon. “Aiden travelled to Portugal with us in pre-season, even though he wasn’t fit. His interaction with me and my staff was great from the first day.

“Aiden’s bright. He cares a lot about his football. He’ll challenge you in terms of what you do, but I like that. I enjoyed working with him, even before I got him on the training pitch, and we knew that once we got him right in terms of his injury, he’d be a massive asset to us. He’s shown that.

“I think he’s enjoying it. He just loves playing football and he’s enjoying his football at the moment. When he’s fit and he feels well, he’s a top, top player. Long may that continue.”

McGeady started Sunderland’s FA Cup win at Port Vale in the previous round, and just as Ross refused to make wholesale alerations for the game at Vale Park, so he is reluctant to change too much for today’s game.

Luke O’Nien is pushing for a start after making a goalscoring appearance from the substitutes’ bench against Barnsley, while Jerome Sinclair could be preferred to Josh Maja in attack. Oviedo will also hope to start after he was omitted from the line-up on Tuesday night, but Ross intends to treat the FA Cup with respect.

That said, however, Sunderland’s workload in the first three-and-a-half months of the season means that whoever he calls upon today, he will be selecting players with extensive experience of life in the first team.

“We’ve had an interesting season because we’ve had quite a few injuries, with players unavailable, and there are pros and cons of that,” said Ross. “The pro is that there are not that many players who have not had a reasonable amount of game time, and that’s good.

“The flip side is that it’s been difficult to field a settled team all the time. We’ve had a bit more continuity around selection recently, but it has helped me that the vast majority of players in the squad have been playing.

“Even when we’ve tweaked the team a bit for league games, we’re not really too concerned about any of the players’ conditioning levels. We know they’re okay in that respect.”

Sunderland (possible, 4-2-3-1): McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, Oviedo; Honeyman, O’Nien; Gooch, Maguire, McGeady; Sinclair.