Saturday 14 December 2019

'Fighter' Coleman faces a scrap to retain his status on two fronts

Ireland's Seamus Coleman. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Seamus Coleman. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

One year and one month ago, the then Ireland manager threw two names up the air and claimed that the two footballers were hewn from the same rock, made of the same stuff, had the same value on the world stage.

"Seamus Coleman is important to us as Gareth Bale is to Wales," Martin O'Neill said in the lead-up to what would be his last competitive home game as manager of Ireland.

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"He's as important to us in every aspect, as a captain and player, a world-class player, he can play in any full-back position in Europe, we would all agree with that."

Except not everyone agreed then or agrees now, Coleman likely to have another afternoon of Premier League inaction tomorrow when Everton play bottom side Norwich City.

The Ireland captain has watched his club's last three Premier League games from the bench and while manager Marco Silva said some honeyed words about Coleman this week, he's likely to stick with Djibril Sidibe for the right-back role.

The last few months have been testing for Bale and Coleman.

Their paths have diverged in one way, as Bale and his Wales side are bound for Euro 2020 as automatic qualifiers, while Coleman and Ireland have to navigate the painful, tricky route via the play-offs, tests in Slovakia and Zenica or Belfast in the Republic's path.

Trouble

Bale is in trouble back in Madrid after he celebrated Euro 2020 qualification on Tuesday by holding a Welsh flag with the "Wales Golf Madrid, in that order" slogan, summing up his priorities, as seen by those in Madrid.

Bale's future at Real, already in doubt, is now in real jeopardy, the joke not going down well with the Madrileños, though he has thoughts of Euro 2020 to console him.

Coleman is the exact opposite when it comes to the respect of his club and its fans, still loved at Everton and even the manager who has benched him for the last three games admits it's not easy to leave out the club captain.

He's also a vital figure with the national team, Coleman keen to have a presence and show his face in the Irish camp for the Denmark game even though suspension meant he was unable to play. But with club and country, Coleman now faces a battle to get regular first-team football.

Mick McCarthy does not like dropping core players from his squad: the presence in the starting XI of James McClean, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane should have been in question after a series of ho-hum displays from all three, but all three started at home to the Danes.

And, if fit, they will all expect to start in the play-off against Slovakia.

He certainly won't want to omit Coleman but a lack of game-time for him, and the upward curve of Matt Doherty, means there is a question to be asked.

Doherty never felt at home in Martin O'Neill's regime, a clear clash of personalities between the pair but he's happier in the McCarthy-led camp, and while the finger was pointed at Doherty for Denmark's goal in Dublin on Monday, Doherty won back brownie points by scoring the equalising goal.

Enhance

Success in the Premier League with Wolves, and a run in the Europa League, will only enhance Doherty's status in McCarthy's eyes.

It would be a big call for McCarthy to leave Coleman out of the starting XI, possibly the biggest selection decision he made as Ireland manager since he dropped Robbie Keane for a World Cup qualifier away to Estonia in 2001. It would take a lot for McCarthy to omit the Donegal man.

But the fact that his competition for right-back at Everton is a younger man, with a World Cup winner's medal, makes it easier for Silva to keep Coleman on the bench.

"He is proving his quality and deserving his chance - always with big competition behind him, because the player behind him (Coleman) is a fighter. A really competitive player," Silva said of Sidibe.

"It is a good headache for me and for us as a club when you have Sidibe playing at that level and a player like Coleman behind him. Coleman is fighting to achieve what he wants: his position in the XI."

Bale's flag antics may have lost him his fight to remain a Madrid player, but Coleman faces a twin battle in the months ahead.

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