Officially, the Irish attendance in the Antalya Stadium this evening will be 236 but we can expect the welcome from the little green army to far exceed that number in sheer delight when Seamus Coleman leads the Irish team onto the field of play, just one day short of the first anniversary of the sickening leg break which he suffered against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on March 24 last year.
Asked yesterday how, 12 months on, he reflects on the Neil Taylor challenge which inflicted so much damage that night, the Donegal man replied in measured tones: “I haven’t even thought of Neil Taylor five times since the injury. He played a part in the tackle, and it wasn’t a great tackle. I was going for the ball, he was a bit high. But these things happen in a tough international fixture.
“If I hold any grudge against him it’s not going to help me in my rehab. He has to get on with his journey and I have to get on with mine. If I hold any anger towards him it won’t help me. Let him carry on with what he has to do, and I’ll crack on myself.
“He sent a message and that was fine with me, no problem. It’s a year ago now and I’ve got things to look forward to. The tackle will always be brought up but I have to crack on with my thing now.”
Happily, Coleman was able to report no lingering after-effects from the injury have surfaced since his recent comeback with Everton.
“Physically, thank God, it’s been okay,” he said. “I don’t finish training and need to ice it. I would have loved to have been back quicker and played a part in trying to qualify (for the World Cup), but that wasn’t to be and I would have been rushing it. But I’m on track with being back now.
“A lot is made of my injury, but Alan Judge (Brentford’s Irish midfielder who was out for 20 months with a broken leg) has also had a very tough two years and it’s amazing to see him back and credit to the manager for showing faith in him.”
At no point during his own long lay-off, Coleman insisted, did he ever doubt that he would be back.
“That never crossed my mind,” he said. “I knew if I did everything I was told and the work I needed to do in the gym, that I’d be back in the football pitch. I’m back now for five or six games and feel good in the games and hopefully I can do the same in the Irish shirt. I never doubted for a second I’d get back playing football.”
For his part, Martin O’Neill was lavish in his praise for the returning skipper.
“Naturally I’m delighted to see him back,” the manager said. “I sometimes think he doesn’t know himself how influential he is not only in the dressing room but on the field of play which is the main part. I think it almost goes without saying that we missed him.
“Had he been fit, I think we may have made it (to the World Cup), who knows. He would have given us a much better opportunity.
“I’ve said to him — I’d rather say it when he’s not in the room — he’s an absolutely world-class player. You talk about someone with a leg break getting back: I reiterate that when we saw him in the hospital in the first few nights and he was really down, you felt with his determination he would get through. That’s just his character.
“We as a group are delighted, the players are, and the management team very much so. If he can stay clear from serious injury, who knows what lies in store for him in the next couple of years.”
Meanwhile, Coleman had his own advice for the young players here in Turkey looking to stake a claim to their own Irish futures: “Come in, keep the head down, work hard and do as the manager asks. You got called up for a reason and try and show that, if you get a chance. If you don’t get a chance (in today’s game), come back in, train hard and eventually if you are good enough then the manager will play you.”
Finally, as Irish captain, he was asked his opinion on the decision by Reading’s Liam Kelly to decline a call-up to this squad as the Bastingstoke-born player reportedly wants to pursue the possibility of playing for England, although last night it was being claimed that it was actually an ankle injury which prompted the midfielder to miss out on the trip to Turkey.
“Liam was called up and, for whatever reason and whatever advice he was given, he thought it best to decline,” Coleman replied. “I can’t comment on that, he’s a young player and can make up his own mind. The only thing I can comment on is that, as a passionate Irishman, we want players who want to play for the country and give it their all.”
Spoken by a man who knows no other way.
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