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'No bullshit, all business': Seamus Coleman's path from Killybegs to another major milestone

It’s a big moment for the Republic of Ireland captain tonight as he reaches 200 top-flight appearances.

IF THERE WAS a day that changed things, it was back in 2006. A February friendly between St. Catherine’s and Sligo Rovers up in Killybegs’ Emerald Park.

Seamus Coleman only played 45 minutes – and at centre-back – but it was enough. His side were thumped 5-0 but the 17-year-old was snapped up by Sligo straight after the game.

Despite being a fish out of water, being so much younger than the rest of the squad and his inevitable shyness, he quickly made his mark.

“My first memory would be his first training session”, says former team-mate Brian Cash.

He played in a 5v5 and proceeded to kick lumps out of all the senior players without uttering a word. We knew this fella meant business and he was in the team pretty soon after that. If I had to describe him in one word? Tough.”

Sean Connor signed Coleman but moved to Bohemians not long after. His replacement, Rob McDonald, wasn’t sold.

“I just looked at him and thought ‘do you really want this? I had my doubts”, he told Conan Doherty.

McDonald didn’t last long and under Paul Cook, Coleman blossomed. He was given a freedom to get forward and seemed to trademark the marauding run from right-back. His touch, awareness, positioning was all improving. Between 2007 and 2008, there was some steady, eye-catching development.

Source: retroloi/YouTube

“We all knew he was gonna be a good player but when Paul Cook took over, he gave Seamus a new lease of life”, says Cash.

“After that, we all knew it was only a matter of time before he was brought over by someone. He was the best player in the league by a mile by the time he went and he prolonged my career by two years because with him behind me I didn’t have to do much!”

There’s a common thread to any insight gleaned from Coleman’s former coaches and team-mates. They’ll talk about his drive and his work ethic. They’ll say that he was never the most naturally gifted but that he had a quiet, steely aggression and determination. And it began to pay dividends.

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Daryl Kavanagh and Seamus Coleman Source: James Crombie/INPHO

By 2008, Coleman was being linked with a move to the UK. A number of clubs stepped up and batted their eyelids. Celtic lowballed Sligo with their offer. Birmingham were interested and Crystal Palace too. But it was Everton who put the most attractive bid on the table: €60,000 plus a wide variety of add-ons and bonuses. Since leaving for Merseyside in January 2009, Coleman has made about €250,000 for Sligo and the funds contributed significantly to the club’s success over the years that followed.

Coleman arrived at a club that was about to enjoy its best season in a long time. There was a fifth-place finish in the Premier League and an appearance in the FA Cup final. Expectedly, the 20-year-old had to wait for his first sniff of first-team football.

When it came, it was certainly memorable. In Benfica’s Stadium of Light, Coleman was handed his senior competitive debut for a Europa League clash. It was a patched-up Everton team and David Moyes was without 11 players.

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Group I - SL Benfica v Everton - Estadio da Luz Source: Stephen Pond

The Portuguese side scored five. Coleman started at left-back and was caught under an Angel di Maria cross after 14 minutes. Javier Saviola applied the finishing touch and things got progressively worse from there. It was a baptism of fire.

It would be lovely to report that Coleman had a debut to rank with Colin Harvey’s first game for Everton in 1963, when as an 18-year-old he defied Internazionale at the San Siro, but sadly he was exposed for Benfica’s first three goals and his one consolation was his manager’s observation that Di María would have troubled any full-back in the world last night”, wrote Tim Rich in The Guardian.

It was a steep learning curve. Coleman was not at The Showgrounds anymore. Mistakes were being punished and the spotlight was unrelenting and magnified any imperfection. But a short loan spell with Blackpool served him well.

He played in a dozen games, including the play-off final at Wembley, scored his first senior goal against Scunthorpe and enjoyed his football at Bloomfield Road. It was a much-needed confidence boost, especially with Ian Holloway keen to sign him permanently ahead of the club’s debut Premier League season.

But Moyes had been impressed by Coleman’s displays in the Championship. When he returned to Everton, he was back in the first-team. In 2010/2011, he made 40 appearances in all competitions and scored six times. He had arrived.

Tonight, he makes his 200th top-flight appearance – another magnificent milestone for the unassuming, resilient Coleman. A long way from Emerald Park and the 5-a-sides in Sligo.

“To be honest, I couldn’t speak highly enough of him”, Cash says.

“He’s genuinely a lovely fella that has worked his nuts off to get to where he is so he deserves all the success he gets.

When I watch him on the pitch now, he’s the exact same guy I played with all those years ago. No bullshit, all business, never in any trouble. Just a genuine good fella who is also a top-class footballer”.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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