SEAMUS Coleman ticked the box aside another of his childhood dreams last Friday night.
On the day of his 25th birthday, the Killybegs native was taken aside just before the Republic of Ireland’s pre-match meal by the interim manager, Noel King. Captain Robbie Keane took a kick to his ankle the previous day at training in Gannon Park, Malahide and was ruled out of action for Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Germany.
In the absence of Keane, Coleman was ear-marked for the captaincy and, so, the young man from south-west Donegal took another step on football’s ladder, carrying the pennant, wearing the armband and introducing his team-mates to the dignitaries.
“It was definitely the proudest moment of my career,” he told the Donegal News.
“Leading your country out away to Germany, one of the favourites for the World Cup was brilliant; a great feeling.
“I only found out on Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the game. The manager pulled me aside and just said that Robbie wasn’t going to be playing with his injury and that he wanted me to be the captain.
“It was a very special moment.
“Growing up playing for St Catherine’s you’d be watching the likes of Roy Keane and Robbie Keane leading out Ireland. It’s something that you always want to happen, but you never think that it will happen.
“I was delighted with the honour. It’s something that will stay with me for a long time.”
Coleman has been tipped as a future captain. With Keane, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea all in their thirties and with question marks hovering over their international futures, the Everton full-back is seen as someone who could lead the boys in green.
Having been left out of Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad for the European Championships last summer, Coleman has bounced back and has made the number 2 shirt his own.
On Tuesday night, a disappointing World Cup qualification campaign ended with a 3-1 win against Kazakhstan in Dublin.
It was a campaign that never caught fire and one that had a changing of managerial guard just before its ending. For Coleman, it was a campaign that at least helped to cement his place as Ireland’s first-choice right-back.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said.
“I had to bide my time before I got in and now I just have to keep playing well to stay in the team. I have to play well for the club and just keep trying to get picked for the national team. It took me a while, but I managed to take the chance when it came.
“A lot of players have broken through. It took a while for us, the likes of myself and James McCarthy, to get in. Hopefully we can have a positive few years.”
The campaign just gone, he admitted, was ‘disappointing’, but at least it ended with a victory over Kazakhstan on Tuesday night that should help Ireland be second seeds in the draw for the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Having missed out last year for Poland, Coleman’s next goal is to guide the Irish to France in three years time.
“We have got great players,” he pointed out.
“What makes a better team is competition for places and hopefully when we get some lads into the squad now we’ll have to stay on the toes, us lads who are actually playing.
“I want to play in a major tournament. We’ll be watching the World Cup from home, but hopefully we can rally around the new manager and build for the next campaign to get to Euro 2016.
“There is a sadness there because we aren’t going to the World Cup, but Euro 2016 is our next major tournament and we just have to keep working towards that, hopefully bringing in some young players along the way. We have a lot of very good players who are very comfortable on the ball and we showed that against Kazakhstan. It’s all very well doing it against Kazakhstan , but we need to be doing that against better opposition.”
Kazakhstan had actually taken the lead on Tuesday when Dmitriy Shomko delivered a stunning opener past David Forde following a mis-cued clearance by Coleman.
“It was a great goal,” said the Donegalman.
“I could have done better with my clearance, but you could do that ten times and wouldn’t get a strike like that after it. It happens and thankfully we managed to pull back and get the three goals to finish on a good note.
“I thought that we played quite well at times and, more importantly, we got the win. It was important to win for Noel in his last game. It was important to finish the campaign off with a win.”
The 61st international goal of Robbie Keane’s career levelled it for Ireland with the cheeks still red from the concession just four minutes previously. John O’Shea ended a ten-year Irish goal drought when he hammered home the second, but it wasn’t until Shomko put through his own goal in the 78th minute that Ireland could exhale.
Coleman watched in horror as Darron Gibson was stretchered off in the second-half. His Everton team-mates’s worst fears were confirmed yesterday when his club announced that he had damaged his cruciate knee ligament.
Coleman said: “I am gutted for him. That has put a real downer on the night.”
The Everton manager Roberto Martinez was at Aviva Stadium for the game, with Coleman, Gibson and James McCarthy all involved. Martinez took over at Goodison Park following David Moyes’ departure to Manchester United. The former Wigan manager has had a fine start with the Toffees, their recent defeat to Manchester City being their only League defeat so far. Coleman has been impressed by the Spaniard.
He said: “We’ve had a good start.
“He’s come in and got us playing good football. The Man City game has been the only blip so far, but hopefully we can get started from scratch against Hull on Saturday and go on another run of results.
“He has a great ethos about him. He’s a great manager and has us playing the right way, so we have to make sure we use that to get us the results and points we need to stay as high up the table as we can.”
Next month, Coleman is expected back on international duty when Ireland face Hungary and Poland in friendly games, the former at home and the latter away.
Speculation continues to mount on the identity of Trapattoni’s successor with the names of Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy the most prominent. An appointment is expected in early November – and Coleman has urged the Football Association of Ireland to have a new man installed in time for the friendly double header.
He said: “It would be good to get him in before the games in November so he can see what he has to work with and what he can build on. It’s up to us to impress him as best we can. The sooner the better for him to get us working the way he wants. Hopefully that can be done for the friendlies.”