Sunday 4 December 2016

Killybegs roots give Coleman the perfect credentials to be captain

Chris McNulty

Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30

An emotional Seamus Coleman with five-month-old daughter Lilly at his
homecoming reception in Killybeggs
An emotional Seamus Coleman with five-month-old daughter Lilly at his homecoming reception in Killybeggs

Seamus Coleman never had to look too far for inspiration or role models.

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Whether it was Emerald Park, the home of St Catherine's FC, or on the tough sod of Fintra, one of Donegal GAA's most famous patches, Coleman had his heroes.

They know all about hard work in Killybegs, still lit now by the bright bulbs of the fishing trawlers, and it is a trait that has served Coleman well since he hit the Premier League.

Coleman has really emerged from that quiet, shy exterior of late, but the 27-year-old says he was always a leader of men.

Just 20 seconds into Ireland's must-win Euro 2016 clash with Italy in Lille last Wednesday, he crashed into Mattia de Sciglio. It was a moment that outlined his sheer will.

Coleman appears to be Ireland's captain-in-waiting for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Seamus Coleman was Ireland captain against Italy. Picture credit: David Maher/Sportsfile
Seamus Coleman was Ireland captain against Italy. Picture credit: David Maher/Sportsfile

"The armband was a bonus, but I just tried to do what I always do - set the tone for the lads," said the Everton full-back.

"They all followed. I always thought of myself as a leader. It is an amazing feeling to captain the country at any level.

"It was a special honour. To do it in such a big game that we needed to win and then to get the win, it was an incredible feeling. I'll remember the moment for a long time.

"The manager doesn't name his team until the last minute. I had no time to think about it. I just put the armband on and tried to lead the team."

John Cunningham had many a homecoming in Killybegs and on Monday night, the former Donegal footballer spoke powerful words when hundreds turned out to welcome home Coleman.

Cunningham was as fearless as most of those who graced the Killybegs playing fields.

In 1992, he was sent off in the Ulster final against Derry, losing his place for Donegal's run to All-Ireland glory that autumn in the process.

Cunningham has experienced the ecstasy of sport's highs and the agony of its lows, so when he calls Coleman "a true, quality leader," you tend to listen.

"Seamus showed tremendous composure, commitment and courage," he said. "He didn't take the easy option, but then he never did. He always tried to create something. It was brilliant the way he handled the pressure of the whole situation."

Ireland's tournament looked doomed after a 3-0 defeat to Belgium, but in a manner in keeping with their qualifying run, Coleman and his team-mates defied the odds.

Famous

Their hopes of making it to France appeared to be gone after a 1-1 draw with Scotland last June.

But, like they did in France, they pulled the embers from the fire as Robbie Brady's goal gave them a famous 1-0 win over Italy.

That they did was, in Coleman's eyes, down to Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.

He said: "I can't speak highly enough of the manager and Roy. They've been brilliant since they've come in.

"It was a steady process at the start. They've been getting to know us and we've been getting to know them. They've been figuring out what players they wanted in what system. It took a while.

"The majority of people had us written off, especially after Scotland, but there's a never-say-die attitude in that squad.

"We were written off again after the Belgium game. We needed a lift before we played Italy and it came from the boss and Roy. They led and we followed."

Coleman was a boyhood Manchester United fan who looked up Keane and you get a sense that he still idolises Ireland's assistant manager.

He said: "Roy has been brilliant. What you see is what you get with Roy. He tells you how it is. As professional footballers, there is something wrong with you if you don't like being told how it is.

"Hopefully they stay together now. No contracts have been signed, but hopefully they'll be around for another few years because we have exciting times ahead.

"We can take a lot of positives from the campaign. It's been a positive in itself to be disappointed in getting beaten by France. That shows how far we've come. We played football the right way and we have a lot of young players coming through."

If John O'Shea decides to call it a day along with Shay Given and Robbie Keane, then Coleman is likely to be given the captaincy by O'Neill when Ireland head to Serbia in September to begin their World Cup qualifying campaign.

If he is, the grounding he got in Killybegs will ensure that he won't be found wanting.

Irish Independent

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