'Fitter, better, faster, stronger' - Seamus Coleman reveals how he bounced back from horror injury
Coleman determined to make up for lost time by rewarding family, friends and fans that helped him through darkest hour
As he savoured the aftermath of a successful Everton comeback on Wednesday night, it was a brief discussion with Kasper Schmeichel that got Seamus Coleman thinking about what might have been.
Leicester's Danish goalkeeper approached the Irishman to congratulate him on his return - a starring and inspirational display that helped his side to a vital success.
"Kasper said to me, 'Well done, great to see you back," says Coleman, "And I just said, 'Yeah, it's a couple of months too late.'"
On a night of celebration, regret briefly slipped in. For the Killybegs man, it was "a killer" to watch the World Cup dream slip away without being able to do anything about it.
Any Irish person who watched the influence that the 29-year-old had in his winning Everton return could be forgiven for straying into 'what-if' territory.
In the moments where Sam Allardyce's side appeared to be losing their way, Coleman surged forward to lift them out of it.
Up in the press box, his one-time Irish colleague Sean St Ledger - who was at Goodison working for Leicester's in-house radio station - couldn't believe what he was seeing from a player returning from 10 months out.
"That was just ridiculous," he smiled, his admiration clear.
When Coleman emerged to offer his reflections, however, it was apparent that he expected nothing less from his re-introduction to the highest level.
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In a game of substance, he had no intention of settling for a 60-minute cameo and then stepping to the side.
He went full tilt to prove to the Everton supporters that they were getting the premium service from the outset; he could sense from the mood around the ground that they were rooting for him.
The heartbreak of the injury inflicted by Neil Taylor's Aviva Stadium lunge is now firmly in the rear-view mirror, although there was a trace of emotion in his voice as he made clear that he would never forget the support he received in the aftermath.
"Look, all I wanted was to get out there and get back involved, it was important," Coleman told the Irish Independent, after emerging from the dressing-room to pats on the back and kind words from the Goodison Park staff.
"I could see there was a build-up around here to me being involved. The fans were all excited - I could tell from the reception I got, but it was important for me to blank that out. I needed to perform well. That was my focus.
"Now that the game has gone well and we've won, I can reflect a bit on the support that I've got. And I really appreciate it, the support I've had from day one from all corners. Starting with my family and going back to the people of Ireland in the early days, which is something I'll never forget. It's almost hard to explain.
"From day one, there was schools all around the country sending cards and everything. The medical team from Ireland, the manager and all of the players coming in. The President (Michael D Higgins) came to me in my hospital bed. And then I went home to the people of Donegal. My wife (Rachel), my kids, my mum and dad and my brothers have all been amazing. My wife's family. They let me get on with my business and my aim was to get back on that pitch.
"And obviously then, when I moved back over here after that month at home, the support I've had from all Evertonians has been great and I just wanted to repay that faith. Every little thing I've received has helped. And you can see yourself with the reception I got from the fans tonight. It's a special place to me and I just want to make sure now that nobody can say 'aw, he's a different player now' because that's all nonsense."
He is looking forward to a trace of normality now.
There have been other important things going on in his life in the past year. Earlier this month Rachel gave birth to their second daughter, Ellie, a younger sister for Lilly, and that has kept his hands full.
But in a football context, every discussion has been framed in the context of when he might be back.
He was acutely aware of the concerns that he might return as a diminished force. The stirring showing against Leicester, characterised by a 92nd-minute interception and burst forward into the opposition half in driving rain, offered the definitive answer.
"I've made sure I've come back fitter and stronger and faster. I know it's a cliche, but it's what I want to do," he continued.
I've made sure I've worked hard the last 10 months. I've always said if you've got a strong mind, that's half the battle. I know injuries and tiredness is part of the game but I fully believed going into that game that I'd be fitter and stronger than everyone else.
"I'd worked hard for the last 10 months. It's not just a case of being in the gym. You're working on your fitness, your body strength and I fully believed I would come back and do well.
"There will be good games and there will be bad games, it's no different than before the injury," continued Coleman, who did point out a few flaws in his own display. "But that's all part of it. I was a bit sloppy in the final third. I could have scored in the end but all in all, I'm quite happy.
"I knew a couple of days ago that I would be playing. The manager has been talking to me on and off about it and he named the team a couple of days ago. I was ready to go then. I never wanted to use an excuse of 'aw, he's just back.'
"I saw that the manager (Allardyce) said to give me time but when you're back on that pitch, you should be fit enough to play in the Premier League.
"I never wanted to finish up the game and come out and say, 'Well, I'm just back and building into it.' No, I'm back and I'm back to be back."
That will be music to Martin O'Neill's ears too, with Coleman genuinely appreciative of the invites he received to join the Irish camp ahead of the big games at the tail end of the World Cup campaign.
There were mixed emotions, naturally, but the gesture meant a lot and he remains a firm supporter of O'Neill and Roy Keane, believing they have made the team competitive again. He's "delighted" they are staying on.
"Obviously I'm looking forward to getting back and getting a few bollockings from them now and then when I'm not performing," he grinned.
"But I suppose the relationship I've had with them over the past 10 months is something I'll always remember too. They've been a great comfort to me from day one."
Coleman already has the armband, but it's likely that on the age scale he will also be one of the senior players going forward with question marks over the intentions of O'Neill's 30- somethings.
James McCarthy will be a part of the future too, much as he is only starting his long road back from a broken leg. His good friend will be motivating him along the way.
"What's the chances?" says Coleman, shaking his head at the fact that his mate also suffered a double break. "It's unfortunate but I've been speaking to him. He'll be all right. He'll come through it."
Everton business is the priority for now but when the international games come back around, Coleman will have a new focus.
The Aviva Stadium was the scene of his lowest point, but his goal now is to make it the wallpaper for the highlight.
With Ireland co-hosting Euro 2020, qualification would give him the chance to lead the team out there for a historic occasion.
"I'm really looking forward to putting on that green shirt again," he asserted.
His country's feeling is mutual.
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