By Liam Mackey
Ireland captain Seamus Coleman believes that Cork City and Dundalk would be good enough to compete at Championship level in England and insists that the League of Ireland does not get the credit it deserves for producing players and teams of high quality.
“When some of the younger players (in England) ask about the standard in the League of Ireland, you might hear ‘League 2’ thrown about now and again,” said the Everton man who kicked off his senior career at Sligo Rovers.
“I know there are some teams in the League of Ireland who are better than others so it’s hard to compare but Cork City now or the year Dundalk were in the Europa League, you’re talking Championship-level teams.
“You saw how well they did in the Europa League and nearly the Champions League.
People do definitely turn their nose up at the league. I think the League itself knows that, that people from the outside don’t give it the credit it deserves.
“Which is a shame when you think of all the players that went over. You’ve got me, I’m lucky to be captain of my country. James McClean is doing really well. Paddy McCourt. You could have watched these guys in the League of Ireland.
“Something I really enjoy is when I’m in an airport or somewhere and I meet someone and they say ‘I used to go and watch you at Sligo’.
Speaking as a guest on the latest edition of the SSE Airtricity League podcast ‘Greatest League In the World’, Coleman didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of playing again in the domestic game but indicated that it’s more likely he would try to take his first steps in management with an Irish club.
“(Returning to play) is always a possibility, you’d never say no, but for me my focus is probably on playing as long as I can in England at the highest level I can,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to come back to the League of Ireland just to come back - I would want to make sure I had something to offer.
“I know James (McClean) is very passionate about coming back to Derry and him being a Derry lad I think that hits home a bit more for him. But he wants to come back with plenty in the tank, from talking to him.
“I want to play as long as I can at the highest level and then see from there.
“It has crossed my mind a few times to get my coaching badges done and managing, or starting, in the League of Ireland – (Ex-Sligo, now Wigan boss) Paul Cook would come to mind - and try and do well and build from there.”
The Donegal man also credited his sports background in Ireland with helping him to return to football with complete confidence after his ten-month lay-off with a broken leg.
“I never had any doubts about my comeback, I never had any doubts about my first tackles,” he said. “But I knew everyone inside Goodison Park would think if I pulled out of the first tackle, ‘the injury’s affected him’. So I had to show people that this injury has not affected me, even though I knew it hadn’t.
“Some players definitely will get injured and you’ll see them not wanting to tackle but I think with my upbringing – playing gaelic football, coming through the League of Ireland, doing things the hard way – I was never afraid of it. I just wanted to crack on straight away.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.