Wednesday 25 April 2018

Coleman's quiet assurance fuels Dragons' inferno

Chris Coleman in thoughtful mood during Wales’ training session in Cardiff yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Chris Coleman in thoughtful mood during Wales’ training session in Cardiff yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Quietly, but determinedly, Chris Coleman steels himself to lead the country which defined him in defiance of the country that formed his father.

We strain to hear his words but cannot fail to grasp the feeling.

"Tomorrow night," he tells us, "I won't be thinking about how much I like Dublin and I won't be thinking about the fact my dad's Irish.

"I'll be thinking that I'm from Swansea and I'm representing Wales. You lot are in the way of what we need and I've got to try and somehow get past that."

It is four years now since Coleman bade his father a final farewell, barely the distance of a long throw-in away from the Brazen Head pub.

Ashes

Paddy had wanted his ashes scattered into the soot-coloured Liffey, by Merchant's Bridge, along with a pint of Guinness - a nod to city custom.

He left East Wall at 20 but while he may have left the city, the city never left him. Even in death.

"I spent so much time in Ireland. My dad's a Dublin boy. Of course the connections are always going to be there and I've still got family in Dublin.

"We're going head-to-head with the Republic of Ireland and of course I want it to be us, 100 percent, but it would be nice to see another home nation at the World Cup."

But Coleman is, despite his birthright, a devoutly passionate Welshman; his father didn't live to see him lead his country to their greatest ever international success at Euro 2016 but the life lessons bequeathed to him still burn brightly.

Always quietly encouraging to him as a young boy on Swansea fields strewn with dreams, Paddy always had faith in his boy's ambition to play international football for Wales.

And now, as he seeks to build on last summer's success, the chance awaits to lead Wales to its first World Cup finals since 1958.

Ever humble, Coleman recognises that there was a time when he surveyed international occasions such as this wondering whether he himself would become history, rather than his team becoming history-makers.

"I've been in this seat before wondering if I'd still be in the job if the next result didn't go my way," he says. "I've seen the other side of it, a lot more times than I've seen this side of it.

"When we were in this position to qualify two years ago, it was all new to us but we have been through that experience now so we know what to expect.

"This is as big as anything we've been involved in. The good thing about it is we've been here before, so we've got that experience.

Excitement

"We've got to contain our excitement. We've always wanted to be in these big games where all eyes are on you and there's so much to play for.

"Up until two years ago, we've never been anywhere near it, but now we are. There's nothing to fear or to worry about.

Coleman places great faith in his game-plan. "The players own it, they fall back on it because they have created it."

There is a quiet determination about his faith and that has seeped through to a squad who, according to full-back Chris Gunter, are utterly relaxed and approaching this game with level heads.

Their muscle memory will becalm potentially fluttering hearts in what promises to be an inferno of excitement at the Cardiff City Stadium.

In a battle of evenly-matched Celtic cousins, composure will be key in a contest where mental and physical strength will be more pivotal than intricacy.

"I'd be surprised if it was like a game in the Premier League that some of the top boys play with loads of possession. I think it's going to be toe-to-toe, end-to-end. Both sets of players are quite similar so there will be a lot of contact. It will be very exciting.

"I don't think it will be one of those fights where we will be jabbing at each other. We are going to go for it - both teams.

"International football should always be, no matter who you play for, a huge honour to represent your country.

"I can forgive my players for anything but I can't forgive them if they don't empty everything on the pitch, and they always do."

In a windowless press room convincingly impersonating a sauna - "We never expected to host such big crowds here," smiles the PR man amiably - the sense of impending achievement is palpable.

Ancient history has been re-written but new stories await telling. "It is a golden era because they proved that. They got that label even before we qualified and I fought against that because they hadn't earned that tag, but they've earned it now.

"This group of players have made the difference and they've gone one step further than anybody else that has come before them.

"The problem is that is in the past. That's not going to help us tomorrow night."

Dublin was ugly; Cardiff will be feisty. But Coleman doesn't expect the game to veer into violence, merely the honest physicality which takes the place of artistry on claustrophobic nights such as these.

As much as he will remember his father, he will remember Gary Speed too, his tragically taken predecessor.

Speed used to sing to Coleman's guitar accompaniment; "I couldn't play the guitar now, it sounds like I'm playing with boxing gloves."

Instead, should events transpire as he firmly believes they will, and Welsh hopes of qualifying are prolonged, Coleman's celebrations will be as modest as his preparations.

"Maybe," he relents, "a nice glass of red." And he will raise it to Paddy, a cherished Irishman who gave birth to a Welsh legend.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport