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'The whole idea of being a footballer for me is to play in the Premier League. It’s not to have a nice car'

Seamus Coleman talks about what it means to captain Ireland, the next generation of players and recovering from setback at Everton.

AFTER IRELAND FINALLY shook off Gibraltar on Monday night, Seamus Coleman took the time to text his club-mate and compatriot James McCarthy.

Seamus Coleman Seamus Coleman. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You’ve a big part to play in this Ireland team, so get yourself right and get yourself ready to go.”

These are Coleman’s quieter moments of responsibility as Irish captain, a role he embraces without ever being solely motivated by.

“It’s an armband on match day”, he tells the reporters gathered around him, “but it doesn’t change who I am or what I do. At Everton Phil Jagielka is the captain but I’ve been around long enough and there are things I don’t like, I’ll say it.

“It’s not anything for my ego being captain. If I wasn’t Ireland captain tomorrow it wouldn’t change a single thing about what I want from the team. Have I grown into it? Maybe, without knowing. I just want everyone to try and do the right things at the right time.

“It’s important, even around the hotel, to be respectful to people.”

Coleman’s respect for others is among his most notable traits. Over the last six months, he has had countless ‘what’s different under Mick compared to the previous manager’ questions dangled before him, and he has steadfastly refused to indulge them.

Here’s the latest.

“I know we went through a year last year of not winning many games, but there is a….and again, this is not to say there wasn’t a feel-good factor under the last manager, because I hate answering questions and people twisting it a different way…but there’s a feel-good factor about the team, the squad, the coaches are good, we’ve really enjoyed it.”

His is a respect so profligate it reaches the media.

“Criticism is part and parcel of it. I knew after 75 minutes [of the Gibraltar game], we were going to get criticism on the telly. You have a job to report it as honestly as you can and that’s fine.”

The Gibraltar win, he acknowledges, has little going for it beyond the result, and while the manager usually has to bear the reflected frustrations of poor performances, Coleman says the players need to shoulder some of it, too.

“The manager isn’t saying, don’t show for the ball, or put the ball in the channel. He wants us to get on the ball. If you watch us in training, the lads are getting on the ball. It’s just about having the confidence to transfer that onto match day. There have been times in my career where things aren’t going well and you don’t show as much as you should.

“That’s just part of the game. But if you can get lads showing for the ball it makes it easier for everyone.”

This media engagement is Coleman’s last act of a lengthy, topsy-turvy season.

Having completed his return from that awful broken leg at the end of last season, this year wasn’t without its issues. After an encouraging start to the season under Marco Silva, Everton’s form imploded after the freakish defeat to Liverpool at the start of December.

From there, they won just twice in 13 league games until beating Cardiff at the end of February, a run of games in which Coleman occasionally became the fall-guy.

Youngster Jonjoe Kenny was preferred at right-back, until Coleman forced his way back in and ended up nominated for the Player of the Month award for March.

“Don’t doubt yourself, keep working hard”, says Coleman when asked how he endured his sticky spell.

That’s how I’ve always been throughout my career. Even when things are going well, it’s head down and keep driving forward. Every training session, give it my all. That’s what I did and the harder you work, sometimes the luckier you get. And eventually my luck started to come from January onwards.

“People think it is [my first sticky spell] but definitely not. People still talk about the Euros in 2012 and how did I not go – I didn’t deserve to go. I remember I was terrible for Everton that year.

“I think to come back from the injury I had and have a sticky spell was probably down to the injury, but when I wasn’t playing well before that it was just I wasn’t playing well.

“No, I’ve had up and down years at Everton. Yeah, it was a tough time and maybe the pressure from the media and the fans was a little bit more than it had been, but I always say we get paid very well to do our job and that comes with the job.”

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Coleman is heading back to Donegal on holiday now, for some well-earned rest. Speaking to him, you realise how little scope there is for it during the season, where his established status doesn’t mean he is impervious to pressure.

“I’m not getting any younger, there will come a stage where I won’t be in the teams, and that’s just life. [Until then] I’ll keep fighting every single day in training.

“And you know, Jonjoe Kenny has just gone out on loan so you would imagine we’ll be trying to sign another right-back and, as I said, every single day in training I’ll fight and it’s the same with Ireland.

“I’ve got probably the best right wing back in the league fighting with me in training, and you just keep fighting and keep going and see where it takes you.”

Coleman will be 31 in October, and although far from finished, he has a few opinions on the next generation of players.

“The game’s changing. Look, there are so many different personalities but I do think that drive probably isn’t the same any more in kids.

“Probably because they’re getting rewarded for not really doing quite a lot. They can be sorted for life before they even played 10 Premier League games. I think that’s wrong.

“I don’t think that’s fair on the young players. They’re not going to turn it down and you wouldn’t blame them. The whole idea of being a footballer for me is to play in the Premier League. It’s not to have a nice car or have a nice watch.

“That comes with it if that’s what you’re in to. But it’s to be a Premier League footballer, to be as good as you can be. There will still be some young kids who have that desire but I do think they are given far too much too soon.

“And it doesn’t help them because even if you don’t play on a Saturday you’re still picking up a nice wage and living a nice life.

“For young 18, 19, 20-year-olds, for me it’s not ideal.”

Away from the superficial dreams of some of today’s youth, Coleman still harbours plenty of ambitions of his own…although some weren’t even imagined on a pillow.

What would it mean to lead Ireland out at a European Championship game in Dublin?

“It wouldn’t a be a dream come true, because you don’t dream about things like that. It would be incredible.”

Typically, Coleman immediately follows this up with “I’m also in the game long enough to think I can’t think that far ahead.”

He is nothing if not responsible.

Seamus Coleman was speaking at the launch of the SPAR Better Choices Low Fat Protein Milk and Mega Milk.

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Gavin Cooney

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