Sunday 24 September 2017

Steven Reid: I've been in Seamus Coleman's position - and it's hell

Jon Walters, Shane Long, along with Wales’ pair Joe Ledley and Ben Davies attend to the injured Seamus Coleman on Friday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jon Walters, Shane Long, along with Wales’ pair Joe Ledley and Ben Davies attend to the injured Seamus Coleman on Friday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Steven Reid

Steven Reid

Seamus Coleman will never forget what happened on Friday as long as he lives. Over and over again, he'll visualise that ball running loose, that message his brain sent to his legs to go and win it, his determination to get there ahead of Neil Taylor, that awful aftermath.

Having also once suffered a serious injury - in my case it was a knee problem - I can well imagine what Seamus may be thinking. No doubt he'll be overwhelmed by the support he has got from so many different people, and sometimes it's the small gestures which mean the most: a letter from a fan who tells you their own story, contact from a player you barely know.

All this helps, but when you are a footballer in circumstances like this, if I am being bluntly honest, the one message you desperately want to receive is from your surgeon, telling you the time-frame behind your return.

For me, the hardest part - even more so than the physical pain - was when I lay in a hospital bed in Colorado, after being operated on by the best knee surgeon in the world, waiting for the news about whether I'd be able to play again.

Time froze those moments. I lay on a bed, stared at a ceiling and wondered if this was it, if a career I'd dreamed about, worked so hard to make better, was about to come to an end in an American hospital ward.

So when people talk about fear in a sportsman's life, they have to understand the nature of the person they're writing about.

I can't pretend to know Seamus well, or have any idea about the kind of thoughts he's going through.

But I know what it's like to be an injured footballer, to be waiting on someone you've only briefly met having control of your destiny in their hands.

Shifting

I've lain there waiting, my body propped up on three pillows, unable to move one of my legs post-surgery, shifting my head anxiously every time a door opened, wondering if the person walking through it would be my doctor.

Dr Steadman, as it happened, was busy. I asked when he'd be coming around.

"Should be with you shortly," a nurse told me.

"Shortly?"

"Yes, shortly… won't be long at all."

Yet it felt like ages. And then, when he arrived, smiling, staring at a clipboard, saying the words, "that went well", you have no idea how relieved I felt.

He spoke about the mechanics of the operation, and just about every word he said failed to register with me. He paused.

I seized the chance to speak.

"When do you think I can play again?" I asked.

"ABOUT. TEN. MONTHS," he said, each word a sentence.

I can imagine Seamus going through a similar scenario in St Vincent's hospital this weekend, just waiting to hear the words, "you'll be okay. Your comeback date is…"

Once that sentence is spoken, the competitive switch in a footballer's head gets switched on. "Ten months you say? No problem."

Yet for me, there were problems. My knee recovered and then other parts of my body broke down. One week it was a calf strain, the next a hamstring injury. Then it was my groin, the intensity of full-time training after a near year's absence proving too much for my body to cope with.

Eventually I got there.

Mentally, I remember briefly wondering if my knee would go when I first went into a challenge. It didn't. After that, I never thought twice about putting my body on the line during a game. I couldn't change that side of my game. Nor will Seamus be able to change his competitive nature.

Once he recovers, he may be tentative on his first day back training, reluctant to throw himself into any challenge.

Day two may be similarly nervy, but a time will come when a ball will run loose and he'll go for it the way he always has done.

And once he comes through that moment unscathed, the last barrier to his recovery will have been cleared. From that time forward, the tackle from Taylor won't be in his head.

When you're as brave a player as Seamus, you can't ever change. If it is your nature to try and win every challenge, then your nature will stay the same.

He'll come back, stronger than ever.

Will he come back to play in the World Cup finals?

You'd certainly hope so.

As this fascinating campaign unfolds, it's becoming increasingly difficult to predict which way it will end up.

For me, Ireland are in a great position, irrespective of the post-match gloom which seemed to dominate the agenda.

While there is a case to be made that Ireland should have taken way more risks in those final 20 minutes of Friday's game, you still have to look at the bigger picture.

At the half-way stage, Ireland are second, separated from leaders Serbia just by goal difference. Three of their five remaining games are at home, where they have yet to lose under Martin O'Neill.

Four points adrift of them are a team who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, and who have one of the best players in the world at their disposal.

Ireland kept him scoreless on Friday. That point won so untidily on Friday may, in time, prove to be the most valuable of all.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport