By his own admission, Roy Keane doesn’t lightly throw the name Denis Irwin into any football conversation, so it tells you something about the high regard in which Seamus Coleman is held within the Irish camp that the assistant manager yesterday likened the Everton full-back to the former Ireland and Manchester United great.
It was Keane who brought Irwin into the discussion when I asked if he thought Coleman was increasingly emerging as a leader in the Irish team.
“Yeah I think so,” he concurred. “Obviously, it’s been documented that he enjoyed the captaincy in the Euros. I’d always judge Seamus as a really good lad around the hotel but we want our players to play well and Seamus has matured in the way he plays.
“I think he leads. Would I compare him to Denis Irwin? I don’t mean in the football sense, but the way Denis played. Denis led by being a brilliant player and Seamus Coleman is the same type of player.
“He leads by the way he plays, and that’s by being a brilliant player and a good lad. He doesn’t look like he gets too high one way and too low the other. He’s just a real Steady Eddie – and I mean that in the nicest possible way – just like Denis was.
“And just the fact that I’m talking about him in the same breath as Denis Irwin tells you what I think of Seamus. I don’t do that with many players, not in terms of comparing them to Denis.”
Coleman remains touch and go in terms of being available for Monday’s game against Serbia in Belgrade. Yesterday, he was able to play a full part in what was described as a light training session but will now be watched closely over the next 48 hours to see how his ankle reacts.
“Hopeful”, was the word Keane used to describe the Donegal man’s chances of playing in Belgrade but, with James McCarthy already ruled out, he was also anxious not to overstate the impact of another possible absentee.
“Cyrus Christie wouldn’t let anyone down if he starts,” he said of Coleman’s likely replacement, “and, as much as we might miss James McCarthy, the beauty is that with the way the squad has developed over the last year or two, it’s not the end of the world if we have one or two injuries.
"The fact that James has been ruled out, I don’t mean this is a bad way, but it’s part of the game. We’ve got some good options in midfield.”
Among whom is Harry Arter, whose previous attempts at kickstarting his Irish career have been stymied by injury. But Keane made it clear that, like all the other contenders, the Bournemouth man will have to fight for his place in the team.
“I thought he did okay (against Oman),” he said. “It’s a big season for him in club and international football.
“I think his rise has been pretty good club level and now he probably needs a run of games at international level. But there’s good competition in midfield. I don’t think he’d be walking into our team.”
Glenn Whelan is one of those who won’t be giving up his place easily.
And the evergreen’s continued presence in the squad, along with that of his fellow senior John O’Shea, was noted with gratitude by the assistant manager at the end of the week in which the most veteran of them all, Robbie Keane, took his final bow.
“Robbie’s going to be a huge loss,” said Keane.
“The hardest part of football, I’ve said I t before, is putting the ball in the back of the net. Robbie’s done it for Ireland with his eyes shut. He’s been fantastic. He had a really good night the other night and it was great to see him scoring.
"But we’ve been preparing for this, probably knew for the last year or two that it would be his last campaign. But he’ll be a loss, just like Shay Given - a great servant to Irish football.
“Robbie will be a loss around the dressing room but thankfully we still have some senior players around the place, the John O’Sheas, the Glenn Whelans. They’re not kids.”
Assessing Ireland’s overall state of readiness ahead of the World Cup campaign, Keane preferred to draw a line under Ireland’s experiences at the Euros in France.
“The game we’re in, it’s history now,” he said of France.
“We’ve got some confidence from it but we found in the last year or two anyway, that lads were stepping up the plate in international football. The Bradys, the Hendricks, hopefully O’Dowda might do it. I think we’re in a good place, yeah. But I’ve said it before: talk is cheap, you have to go out and do the business.
“It’s a tough group but we’ve had a lot of tough challenges since we came into the job: the first group, the play-off matches, the group in the Euros. And what we find with the players we have is that they’ll have a go - and they’ll have a go on Monday.
"It is a tough group but your aim always in football is for the top, to be number one. It’s going to be difficult. There are going to be some ups and downs along the way, just like the last campaign.
“We’re back on that rollercoaster.”
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