Cyrus Christie knows the score. The Middlesbrough defender isn’t harbouring any illusions about a long-term residency on the right side of Ireland’s back four.
Once Seamus Coleman returns from his broken leg Christie will be the loyal understudy who slips back into the wings.
None of which is to say that he is happy to accept his lot. To sit and wait for Coleman to leave the international stage. The Killybegs man is still only 28 so Christie knows it is up to him to close the gap with the Irish captain and regular right-back.
The last six months and more — since Neil Taylor’s horror tackle — have at least provided him the chance to audition properly. Ushered on as Coleman was stretchered off against Wales, he has since started the next three games and will again tomorrow evening against Moldova.
“Everyone knows that Seamus is first choice and is one of our best players,” Christie admitted. “It’s one of those things you have to accept sometimes in football and I’ll continue to give 110-120% and when opportunities do arise I’ll be ready.
“I obviously want to become a first choice. Seamus is playing at the highest level and for me to get him out of the manager’s head I have to be playing at the highest level as well. The manager has touched on different things about me and Seamus, like playing on the same side.”
That’s an intriguing thought.
Christie has come to be known as a specialist right-back given his lengthy station in the position with Derby County, Boro and Ireland but he started life as a pro with his hometown club Coventry City as a right winger-cum-striker.
Centre-back was another posting considered for him at the Ricoh Arena at one point but it is on the right side of the rearguard that his future looks most likely and that leaves him with the unenviable task of dislodging a man deemed untouchable when fit.
He has no problem with people comparing and contrasting the two of them. Such is life, such is football, he says and Coleman has done his best to give his rival a leg up with text messages and phone calls at regular intervals this year.
Christie speaks of Coleman as “one of the best full-backs in the world”, a man who is playing for a club already in Europe and one with ambitions of cracking the top four in the Premier League, but it isn’t as if the deputy lacks self-belief.
It’s four months since he described himself as one of the best right-backs in the Championship and, though some Derby fans begged to differ on social media, Christie responded strongly by backing himself while accepting he still had work to do.
So, what work would that be exactly?
“I just have to keep improving and growing as a player. I’ve spoken to the manager here (with Ireland) and in Middlesbrough, Garry Monk, and they feel that I’m more than capable. For me it’s about doing it consistently and building and growing on that.
“I probably need to improve on my defending as well. I need to become a more solid defender. I don’t think I’m a bad defender but I’m not great. I can admit that. That’s probably one thing that I need to improve on.
“It is a hard thing to learn, considering there are probably a lot of lads here who have probably played in the same position over their whole career. I didn’t start out as a right-back so I’m always learning and improving. I know what I need to do to make it at the highest level.”
His form with Middlesbrough this season has been encouraging.
Christie says he has never played better and that it is thanks to a manager who has given him the freedom and belief to play his own game. He has defended decently, created goals and even scored a cracker against Fulham.
The judgment on his input through 10 caps with the Republic is decidedly more mixed. Georgia seemed to target him in Tbilisi last month and too many of his forward runs have been undone by a poor final product.
He’s been happy enough himself with his efforts. The 1-0 win against Germany in Dublin was just his second cap.
He showed his potential that night after a nervy start and he has felt as if he belongs on this stage ever since.
“I’m still inexperienced at this level and I have made mistakes and I have held my hand up for that. For me, it’s about learning from them and moving on and establishing myself. I want to push Seamus all the way. I’m fighting for the same spot.
“It is a big competition and I just want to do as well as possible.”
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