As we know only too well, Seamus Coleman won’t be on the pitch in the Aviva on Sunday but if his replacement Cyrus Christie and the rest of the Irish players can channel some of the spirit Captain Coleman’s men showed on a famous night in Lille last summer, Austria in the World Cup qualifiers will find themselves up against what Italy were forced to confront in the finals of the European Championships.
And that is the boys in green firmly in the zone.
“It’s a very easy phrase but a difficult phrase to explain,” says Coleman. “If you’re in the zone and 10 other people aren’t, then it doesn’t matter — it’s a team game. But that night we knew we needed a result and you could just feel the atmosphere in the changing room against Italy. You just felt this was going to be our night, a big night for us, Irish players and Irish fans. You just felt that something was going to happen.
“There might have been a little bit of ranting and raving from a few players trying to hype things up but it was quite calm as well. We knew what we had to do and everyone did have that feeling that they thought something was going to happen.”
Taking that mood into the game is, he says, about “being on the front foot, being positive, making the first tackle — just letting them know that we’re not getting bullied today”.
As a captain and leader, Coleman says he’s not the shouty sort. “Not really, not really… (only) if I have to be!” For him, the point is that the real talking has to be done on the pitch, with each player accepting his full responsibility for carrying out the task at hand.
“As professional footballers, for me it’s about standards,” he says. “I don’t mind players making mistakes — I make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes — but standards is about trying to do the right things, wanting to do the right things, trying to stay with the runners or whatever the case may be. Not seeing someone and just letting them go. Staying with them.
“All the Irish players are the same: We all do our jobs. We’re very lucky like that. You’ll not meet any of our squad who don’t put a shift in and, to be fair, that night (in Lille), I didn’t have to do anything different. I was delighted to get the armband. It meant a lot and definitely gave me something inside that, once again, you can’t explain. But you do realise that everyone back home is watching as well. And standing in that tunnel before you go out with the captain’s armband is a feeling that will never leave me.”
That sense of honesty of effort as a fundamental duty was with him from an early age, even before it found expression in the sports arena, first with his local GAA team in Killybegs.
“I think it comes from within, I think you either have it or you don’t,” he says. “I played GAA and that fuelled it even more. I’ve always had it. It wasn’t the GAA that gave it to me. That definitely helped me. But I had it. And we had such a great club, such a great group of lads and we won a lot of things and that just fuelled it even more.”
And, again, it’s those real-world experiences growing up in Killybegs, and developing his career at local level and then in the League of Ireland with Sligo Rovers, which he feels have stood to him in the increasingly flash world of Premier League football.
“I can only speak for myself, I know that when I go out on the pitch or out to training I give 100% every time,” he says. “I think a lot of footballers get painted in a bad light when there are a lot of footballers that do good things for people. But I’m sure there are players out there that have been in this scene since they were 15 or 16 and they don’t know the real world.
“Luckily for me I understand what it’s like not to be earning that money from a young age. It goes back to the way you’ve been brought up by your parents. I was brought up in a good way so I understand that there are people struggling out there and you’ll never see me rubbing my lifestyle in anyone’s face. I work very hard so I think you’re entitled to a nice house, a nice car whatever the case.
“We work hard, we are out there in front of 40,000 or 50,000 people. If we make one mistake, the whole country knows about it. It’s tough in that way but I’d never complain about it. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Coleman arrived in camp yesterday to lend his support to the Irish cause this weekend. But while this time his injury is restricting him to an unwanted watching brief, he has always believed that this Irish team is in the best of hands.
“We’ve got two great people in charge, obviously the boss and Roy, who make sure we’re on it as soon as we meet up. And I can’t speak highly enough about the group of lads. I really can’t. We know that if we get beat, we get beat trying. I fully believe that we can qualify out of this group and please God give Irish fans another summer to remember.”
Seamus Coleman appears on the latest episode of An Irishman Abroad podcast — thanks to FAISeasonTickets.ie
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