There goes Séamus Coleman, an old hand at this Premier League lark.
Thursday night on Merseyside and the Ireland captain finally featured in the Everton line-up. Fifteen straight seasons not out. Throughout the thrilling 3-0 defeat of Newcastle United, he looked more comfortable than the previous 14 campaigns.
Typical Coleman. If the Toffees claw their way out of the latest relegation fight, despite being docked 10 points, he will be at the heart of their resistance.
Stephen Kenny was cursed as Republic of Ireland manager, in multiple departments, but none more than losing Coleman for this year’s Euro qualifiers
Last March he contained Kylian Mbappé in Dublin. How many fullbacks can say that? Coleman was coming back from injury, nothing new there, and the fear was that his hamstrings would not hold up to the strain of Mbappé's lethal acceleration.
How wrong such logic proved. He took hold of the French phenomena and refused to let him go. He walked Mbappé down cul-de-sacs, kept him quiet and forced Griezmann to switch the play wide left. Even Mbappé shifted off the wing and away from this stubborn Donegal man.
Stephen Kenny was cursed as Republic of Ireland manager, in multiple departments, but none more than losing Coleman for this year’s Euro qualifiers. The 1-0 loss to France was his 68th and most recent cap.
Still, it made no sense for Kenny to bench him when taking the job off Mick McCarthy in 2020. Coleman said nothing after being dropped for Bulgaria. Not a hint of disgust at a very poor call by the new gaffer. He was benched as Matt Doherty started at right back. He got on with leading from the dugout. Kenny is lucky the skipper took it so well.
But this is a rare breed of person, never mind professional footballer. Irish football simply cannot cope without this type of leader and 2023 offers all the proof we need.
Coleman has presence. It’s how he welcomes people into the camp and how he trains. How he shows up, when fit, in the really big games. It’s how he prompted the FAI to reduce the men’s appearance fees so the women’s squad could be paid the same amount. That came from a chat with Katie McCabe. How many male captains of their country bother to get to know their female counterparts?
If not for some nasty injuries, he’d have 100 caps. Coleman only made 12 appearances for Ireland under Kenny. What a shame. It’s his presence, on and off the pitch.
I still think the FAI would find themselves in a similar position entering 2024 but Coleman would have affected how we failed to reach the Euros in Germany
Most of all, Ireland missed him in Athens last June. The Greeks kept switching play from right to left, where Kostas Tsimikas was made to appear almost invincible. I think Coleman would have shut down the space around the Liverpool wing back. He would have abandoned a rigid Irish back five to avert danger at source.
I still think the FAI would find themselves in a similar position entering 2024 but Coleman would have affected how we failed to reach the Euros in Germany.
The silver lining from no major tournament football or a competitive match until next September is this young Irish squad will come back almost two years older for a tilt at qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.
The difference between two and four seasons as a Premier League regular is enormous. Physically, they’ll look different, mentally they will be ready for the international game. All this suffering has to be worthwhile. Bazunu, Omobamidele, Ferguson, Idah and others will reappear as more chiselled, hardened pros.
It is a leap of faith. We do not know with certainty if the above names will survive in their unforgiving, relentless club environments. But the fact there are so many young Irish men on the cusp of proper careers in English football and elsewhere has me believing in a bright future.
I doubt Coleman will be around come 2025. Who knows? Either way, his place among legendary Ireland right backs is secure. It’s our best position. Coleman might not possess the power of Stephen Carr going forward or Steve Finnan’s defensive savvy or Gary Kelly’s all-round game, but he has enough of all three players’ characteristics to be considered their equal.
I think Everton will avoid the drop. Coleman, Sean Dyche and a crammed Goodison are leading characters in this now-annual plot
And that’s saying something. Denis Irwin is Ireland’s greatest fullback but, on the left, Steve Staunton and Ian Harte also have to be mentioned. When these men are remembered, decades from now, Coleman’s name will come up. Few from his generation have earned such recognition.
Goodison Park gets it. Evertonians understand the true value of the Sligo Rovers defender purchased by the club for £60,000. The blue half of Liverpool loves him deeply. The stadium was already shaking after beating Newcastle but when Coleman gave them a fist pump an explosion of noise reverberated around the old place.
I think Everton will avoid the drop. Coleman, Sean Dyche and a crammed Goodison are leading characters in this now-annual plot. Coleman gets what is needed; he always has.