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Replacing Séamus Coleman was tough role to fill – Cyrus Christie

Middlesbrough defender praises injured Ireland captain for his encouragement

Republic of Ireland defender Cyrus Christie rates Séamus Coleman as one of the best fullbacks in the world. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Séamus Coleman’s broken leg, suffered in the goalless draw with Wales in March, was always going to be detrimental to Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup.

Coleman is Ireland’s best player, their captain and talisman – somebody who adds a dash of fire and stardust to a team which is often lacking it.

But if anything could soften the considerable blow of losing the Everton fullback for the majority of the qualification campaign, it was the knowledge that Martin O’Neill had an able replacement waiting in the wings.

Cyrus Christie is very much a player of the O’Neill era – he earned his first call-up ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland in November 2014, before making his international debut in a 4-1 win over the USA later in the same window.

The 24-year-old has since become a regular and dependable face in the Ireland set-up – but playing in the same position as the Ireland skipper meant starting opportunities were always likely to be at a premium.

After Coleman’s injury, however, there was no debate over who would replace him at rightback – with Christie then stepping into the breach.

Big foots to fill

And he insists his role hasn’t changed too much since becoming a regular name on the team sheet: “It’s still the same, I still work hard in training and try to improve. I have got big foots to fill with Séamus and people will always judge me on that.

“We are two different players and we do have similar attributes. It is a tough role to fill and I feel I’m doing okay, learning and growing.”

But has replacing Coleman been a burden? “No not really. It is football at the end of the day, and people are going to have their opinion. It probably wouldn’t be football if people didn’t compare [Christie with Coleman] so for me, it’s fine.”

Coleman might not be on the pitch but he has remained an active presence around the Ireland squad, and he has proven a valuable confidant for Christie: “He just speaks to me, about how well I’m doing. He messages me throughout the season as well and you know he gives me a lot of confidence.

“I spoke to him many times and he just tells me to go out there and play my own game, I’ve done really well when I have played and he wants me to carry on.

“The only thing he tells me is to not score any more so he can catch me up. But other than that, he gives me advice – which is great for me because he’s one of the best fullbacks in the world.”

Shock

Coleman’s injury might have opened a door for Christie, but for him the opportunity is a tainted one: “When he broke his leg, I was in shock. As much as it’s a team game, it’s an individual game but that wasn’t my thinking at all.

“For me, for the lads, we’d lost a big part of the squad, you need your main players, your key players and he is one of them and he is a big loss.”

Christie signed for Middlesbrough from Derby County in the summer and has been ever present for Garry Monk’s side – who currently sit 11th in the Championship table – but he is under no illusions about the prospect of keeping his place in the international side once Coleman returns to fitness.

“I’m coming here and more than likely going to be playing but once Séamus is back he will be back in. I’m not going to shy away from that.

“I know I’ve come in as a second choice and understudy to Séamus because he is playing at the highest level. For me to be taking that spot I need to be playing at that level. I come in here and I can learn off Séamus and push him all the way.”