Saturday 16 December 2017

Coleman aiming to be Ireland's fresh prince

Seamus Coleman in pensive mood after training yesterday as he looks forward to making his full international debut against Norway tomorrow. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Seamus Coleman in pensive mood after training yesterday as he looks forward to making his full international debut against Norway tomorrow. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"Now this is a story all about how, my life got flipped, turned upside down."

SEAMUS COLEMAN has taken to life in the Premier League like a man with no fear of anything, yet it is difficult to imagine the softly spoken lad from Killybegs rapping in the style of Will Smith. Even if some of the lines resonate with his story.

One of football's enduring traditions is that a newcomer to a squad goes through an initiation ceremony which involves performing a party piece. The rapidly improving youngster has experienced it with both Everton and Ireland and, last month, when he joined Giovanni Trapattoni's squad for the first time, he reverted to the tune which served him well on Merseyside.


So, he sang the theme tune to 1990s TV show 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air', a comedy which featured Smith as a kid who enjoyed a rags-to-riches experience.

OK, so the good people of Donegal probably wouldn't appreciate their turf being likened to the mean streets of Philadelphia, but the remarkable rise of Coleman from relative obscurity to the top table really is something to shout about.

Just a few short years after his baby steps with Sligo Rovers, the 22-year-old is a Premier League regular. He received a considerable number of text messages on Sunday afternoon to inform him of Ciaran Kelly's FAI Cup final heroics.

Indeed, as he was leaving Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon, Coleman reckoned that tales of Kelly's penalty shootout exploits were some kind of wind-up.

Certainly, he would have liked to watch his old team-mates enjoy a career high with his own eyes. Instead, however, he was busy doing battle with Cesc Fabregas and Co, the kind of challenge which is quickly becoming his career norm. As much as his nature is to go with the flow, there are moments where it all seems a touch strange.

"I saw a photo from yesterday, of me with Fabregas, and it's surreal considering I was back at Sligo 18 months ago. It's a bit mad," he says.

"It has been different," he continues, when asked if the fuss around is difficult to get used to. "I'm getting more and more noticed and there's more media stuff as well, but I'll just get my head down. Whenever I'm asked to speak to media, I'll go about it. I have seen the change but it hasn't changed me. It hasn't affected me."

Nevertheless, a first international cap is imminent, a significant experience in the life of any footballer. Coleman was a last-minute addition to the party for the Euro 2012 qualifiers with Russia and Slovakia, and spent both games in the role of spectator.

In fact, the Russian game was the first Irish senior international match that he had ever attended.

A contingent from his part of the world will be making the journey tomorrow evening, after Trapattoni confirmed -- well, by his standards, seemed quite sure -- that the visit of Norway would offer the rising star a chance to impress.

At club level, Coleman has copperfastened a place as a wide midfielder while retaining a preference to drop back to right-full eventually. Trapattoni is eager to take a look at the player in his favoured role, even though he has a plethora of options in that department.

John O'Shea will be needed in the centre of defence but Stephen Kelly and Kevin Foley are competing for the right-back berth as well. Kelly is an alternative to Coleman's room-mate Greg Cunningham at left-back and Foley can operate in midfield, so there are a variety of permutations.

Coleman's progress is exciting supporters, though, and with Trapattoni's team looking quite lifeless in their last Aviva showing, his energy and enthusiasm could deliver a welcome boost of battery power. Still, with his followers banging a drum and calling for instant elevation, Coleman is conscious of the areas where he needs to brush up.

The saturation coverage of the Premier League provides ample opportunities to evaluate his own progress and he recognises why David Moyes is reluctant to award him the defensive responsibility.

"I watch 'Match of the Day' whenever I can, just watch some of my games back and see where I went right and where I went wrong.

"I think I'm an attacking right-back, maybe sometimes too attacking. I need to learn when to go and not to go, that kind of stuff," he adds, observing that Phil Neville is a valued tutor both on and off the pitch.

"Since I went there, he's always helped me. We always speak and he's been behind me at right-back. He's coaching me through games in a positional sense, and he's a very experienced player. You can see he's played at the highest level and could probably go on to be a coach.

"You learn from the players you come up against. I found it hard on Sunday against Gael Clichy; he's very fast and it was tough."

The education will continue over the coming months and it would be unfair to expect too much from Coleman on his international bow. His Everton debut was a difficult experience in Portugal -- a 5-0 thrashing against Benfica in the Europa League -- but he has grown into the challenge and will steadily embrace the latest step with his feet firmly on the ground.

Knowing that he needed breaks to make it this far -- he had slipped under the radar of Donegal's representative sides before Sean Connor brought Sligo Rovers to play St Catherine's in a friendly -- Coleman is conscious that there is fortune in his story.

"But I worked hard to get a wee bit of luck," he cautions. In other words, he's writing his own script.

Irish Independent

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