Sport International Soccer

Wednesday 20 September 2017

'Land of my father? No, it was always Wales for me'

Ahead of Dublin return, Chris Coleman tells Jeremy Wilson why he was never going to play for Ireland

Jack Charlton made a tentative approach to Chris Coleman before he played his first game for Wales. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Jack Charlton made a tentative approach to Chris Coleman before he played his first game for Wales. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Chris Coleman is arguably the most successful Wales manager of all time but, when he arrives in Dublin tomorrow afternoon for their pivotal World Cup qualifier, it would be surprising if there were not an accompanying thought of what might have been.

His father, Paddy, was born just three miles up the road from the Aviva Stadium in East Wall and, ahead of Friday's match, Coleman has revealed how he was indirectly approached by Jack Charlton about the possibility of representing Ireland rather than Wales.

The suggestion was made before the 1994 World Cup but, having been born and brought up in Swansea, Coleman was unmoved and there were no regrets, even when Ireland reached the last 16.

"There was a tentative phone call that came my way but it was all about playing for Wales for me," said Coleman. "My dad was Dublin born and bred - a Dublin boy - but he always pushed me to play for what was Wales Under-15s in my day. If you had shown a bit of talent then you would play for South Wales and you would play against North Wales. My mother's father is American so I had an opportunity there as well."

Coleman's father - Patrick Joseph Coleman - left Dublin for Swansea at the age of 20 but his ongoing affinity with Ireland was such that his final request was for his ashes to be scattered along the Liffey.

The family duly gathered at the Brazen Head pub in Ireland, to say their final goodbyes.

Chris Coleman pictured in the Wales squad during their 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Photo: GETTY
Chris Coleman pictured in the Wales squad during their 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Photo: GETTY

"The history is incredible and unbelievable; I thought it was poignant," said Coleman. "I used to take him back to Dublin most summers for a few days and he would have a little roam around where he was brought up.

"He always said, 'Make sure you do it (scatter his ashes) there'. It was his request. You throw a pint of Guinness into the Liffey. That is the done thing."

Coleman then smiles at a memory he shared with sisters Beverley and Joanna and wife Charlotte. "I did have a little drop first," he said. "It was €8 a pint!"

Coleman is emphatic about his dad's decisive influence on his career and one lingering regret of last summer, when he led Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, was that Paddy had not lived to see his success. He had died in 2014 shortly before the huge upsurge in Welsh football.

"Unfortunately for him it was going wrong for me with Wales so he never got to see us at the tournament," said Coleman. "I was very close to him. He was a huge football man and a great father. He was brilliant with me. I started playing football at the age of seven and he was one of those who never raised his voice. He just guided me.

"I watch parents sometimes on the touchlines at youth games and they are screaming and shouting, which is not the way to go. He was the opposite to that. He was always a quiet talker but he was massive for me as a youngster coming through.

"I wouldn't have got to different levels I got to without him. He was fantastic. He lived in Swansea for 50 years but still had his Dublin accent and never changed."

Read more: Chris Coleman describes Wales as in "pretty good condition" as Ireland grapple with injury crisis

Coleman, though, also stressed that there would be no wavering this week in his focus for a game that is the most important to Wales since their Euro 2016 semi-final defeat by Portugal last July.

Significantly, he has Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen all available for only the second time since the quarter-final win against Belgium.

"We're a very good team at our best and our strongest but we need these players on the pitch and we need them consistently," said Coleman.

"This will be the halfway mark through the campaign. We said we need to be in touching distance and we still are. People will look at this and say it's do or die but I don't see that. All I see is a huge challenge. We've always wanted to be involved in games like this, when the pressure is on for all the right reasons."

Coleman's uncle Michael still lives in Dublin, where he is an artist in Temple Bar, and his son and many friends will be travelling to the game.

"It's not a friendly visit but I will think about my father because it's his city and he would have wanted us to do well," said Coleman. "He would have been there, for sure. I'll have a pint after the game definitely - and that will be remembering him - but beforehand it will be business." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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