Coleman calls for Irish bravery as he dismisses fear of Danes

Captain unfazed by Denmark’s ‘tactic’ of criticising Ireland’s conservative style of play

“Say no: I don’t mind,” Séamus Coleman suggested flatly when Mick McCarthy was asked if he agreed with Martin O’Neill’s repeated assertion that the Killybegs man ranked as a world-class figure. McCarthy grinned, warming to the game.

“No,” the Republic of Ireland manager repeated. Coleman remained poker faced. The exchange was a reminder that for all his politeness, the Everton defender has an obstinate streak coloured by his resolute distrust of hype or flattery or anything he deems to be sensational.

For instance, this fixture has come to be defined by intimations that the Danes take a dim view of Ireland’s overall approach. But shortly before Ireland went through their final practice on a fabulously warm afternoon in Copenhagen, Coleman looked genuinely perplexed by the notion that the Danes have become problematic for his team.

“I don’t think so. I think there has been a massive deal made out of Ireland-Denmark games for some reason. I know the qualification game was massive for the country. It didn’t go well. But since then they haven’t been very exciting games. I have nothing against the question but I don’t see the big deal about this game. We’re playing for our country so regardless of who we are playing we will give our all and hopefully that will take three points or at least one point home with us.”


Closing chapter

The scarifying nature of that 5-1 defeat in November 2017 remains vivid, initiating a bleak closing chapter of the O’Neill-Keane axis. In fact, the preceding 0-0 away game here in the Parken turned out to be the last promising moment of that managerial campaign. The slightly superior-sounding observations by the Danes about Ireland’s steadfastly deep-lying and conservative formation have carried over to this campaign.

“You can change the manager but you cannot change the players,” came the sniffy verdict of Huddersfield defender Mathias Jørgensen. “The most annoying opponent,” summarised Thomas Delaney. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was mystified by the idea that the Danes had been disrespectful while Mick McCarthy just laughed when the comments were repeated to him. Coleman, though, gave a slightly barbed response.

“It wouldn’t be my thing to do – come out and speak badly of other players, definitely not. That is their way of doing things. That is their tactic. It can be a great motivation for the boys if that’s the case. But for other players, you are playing for your country, you are putting on that green jersey. Regardless of who you are playing there is massive pride. You have people back home watching, fans coming over. I am more worried about impressing them than impressing the Danes.”

But it’s clear that Åge Harride or his players are not expecting a radical transformation in style because McCarthy has come in, even as Coleman nimbly side-stepped the invitation to talk about how the team have been given more license to play than was the case under O’Neill.

“I always find them questions difficult to answer because whatever way you answer it can look like I am being negative on the previous management, something I will never do and have never done at club level is be negative towards a manager who has tried to do their best for the country.


“Speaking on the new management team coming in, there were a couple of sessions that they weren’t happy with. They put a drill on for a few of the lads to get in the box and it paid off on the night. So there has been a good influence by the management team but by no means am I having a negative impact on the last regime either.”

Pressed on how he felt about O’Neill’s world-class comments – endorsed by McCarthy here – Coleman claimed complete indifference. “I take good comments and bad comments the same way. Say I am brilliant and say I am crap and it doesn’t bother me.” He was more comfortable talking about Christian Eriksen’s stated ambition of leaving Tottenham to join the crowded stable at Real Madrid.

“Yeah, I am sure he is. He is a very good player and obviously you want all the best players to stay in the league,” he said carefully. “But I am sure he is probably capable of playing in the top European teams – and he probably doesn’t need to hear that from me either.”

It was typical Coleman –polite, cautious and lightly impatient at having to talk about football rather than simply going about playing it. And it was in that mood that he drew a line under what has to happen here on Friday evening.

“We have been in camp for a couple of weeks. Everyone will know their role and job. It is about us doing it on the pitch. There is only so much the manager can do – it is up to us on the pitch and that’s what it boils down to. We’ve got to be brave on the pitch as well.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times