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The secret to being an Ireland captain and Premier League player for 12-plus years? 'Stay humble'

Seamus Coleman on maintaining a career at the top level.

Seamus Coleman has made 299 Premier League appearances for Everton.
Seamus Coleman has made 299 Premier League appearances for Everton.
Image: PA

INCREASINGLY, it is becoming difficult for Irish players to sustain a long-term career in the Premier League.

There is more money than ever in the English game, and thus, there is greater competition for places.

The top tier has gone from being largely a British and Irish league in the early 1990s to an international one.

Yet Seamus Coleman is seemingly the exception that proves the rule.

His appearance for Everton in their penultimate game of the season against Wolves was his 350th for the club in total and 299th in the top flight.

He is currently 14th on the all-time Premier League appearance list for Irish players, ahead of the likes of Steve Staunton (288), Niall Quinn (250) and Andy Townsend (215). Of currently active players, only Shane Long (331) has more. And while Coleman will have the likes of Kevin Kilbane (325), Gary Kelly (325) and Denis Irwin (331) in his sights, he has still some way to go to catch the leader, Shay Given (451).

In addition to Long and Coleman, James McCarthy, Ciaran Clark and Glenn Whelan are the only other players in the top 30 who were active last season.

So what are the qualities that make Coleman such a rarity among the current generation of Irish players?

“Just to be honest, [to stay] humble and hard-working. A complete and utter dedication to what I’m doing. When I say ‘humble,’ I mean when things aren’t going well, I won’t look to blame someone else. I’ll look to see where I went wrong, where I can do better and constantly adapting to the game changing and the different needs of a professional footballer. Luckily, that’s kept me where I am for so long. There’s no massive secret — just being well aware that when things aren’t going well for you, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror rather than looking elsewhere.

“We all have bad days at work and I’ve had plenty, but for me, it’s about going in the next day and trying to improve and be better than you were yesterday. That’s what’s keeping me ticking over, but the bigger picture would be still to win something at the football club. Even though it’s hard, we know plenty of teams want to win trophies and FA Cups, but ultimately that’s the aim and the desire. You’ve got to have an aim and a desire until that day happens, or if it doesn’t happen, then so be it.

“I always gave football and the job massive respect. I didn’t take anything for granted and I didn’t expect anything to be given [to me]. I probably led by example more than anything and did the right things daily.

“I can hold my head up and say there’s never been one day that I’ve never tried in training. I always gave 100% — some days you’re good, some days, you’re not so good, but the effort was always there.

“Over time, maybe managers have seen that. And over time, you get experience and those captaincy roles come. But I don’t think I’ve changed a lot over the years. I’m not a massive shouter and raver, but I try to lead by example.”

Coleman has had problems with injuries in recent years, most notably the broken leg he suffered against Wales playing for Ireland in 2017.

At 32, he can no longer be expected to feature in every single minute of a 38-game season. Yet one of the goals driving him on during the days when the body might be feeling a bit sore is the prospect of representing Ireland at another major tournament, having done so already at Euro 2016. Indeed, viewing the current Euros from afar five years on has served to reinforce that abiding ambition.

“I’m definitely looking at it through a ‘what if’ lens, especially early on in the tournament. When the first games happen, and you remember the games that we had in France, there’s definitely a hint of jealousy watching it. But ultimately, you’ve got to deserve to get to these tournaments, and we didn’t do that, so we’ve got to hold ourselves [to account]. I’ve been busy at home in Donegal with the kids, I’ve not watched every game from minute 1-90, I’ve picked and chosen what games I’ve watched. But definitely, I’m watching it wishing I was there rather than sitting watching it.”

And while he hopes to continue at the highest level for a few years yet, Coleman has already started preparing for life after playing.

“I’m planning for the next stage of my life. I’m doing my coaching badges and I’ll see where that brings me when the time comes. I don’t think I have a God-given right to get a job for Everton just because I played there. My coaching badges in my football career is something I want to earn rather than just be given because you’ve been there for a certain amount of time.

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“Whether I’m good enough to have a coaching role at the club in some capacity, time will tell. If not, I’ll go elsewhere and try my best to be a coach. I’ve still got a few years left as a player before that time ends, but I am definitely planning to stay in football after I stop playing.

“I feel it’d be quite arrogant of me to feel I could just go into Sligo Rovers as a coach or go into Everton as a coach considering there have been people working 10, 15 years [at those clubs] gaining experience. But that’s the aim, to be successful as a coach at some point in my life after football.” 

Whatever happens though, Coleman is grateful for the experiences he has gained in the sport, particularly living through the coronavirus crisis and the sense of perspective it has provided. Watching Christian Eriksen’s horrific collapse too served as a reminder of how tenuous life can be, on and off the pitch.

“I was in the kitchen with the kids playing at the time, and I got a text from my brother saying ‘something bad’s after happening on the TV’. I went in and put it on, I probably shouldn’t have put it on. It was frightening to see what was going on.

“We can only be thankful that he’s safe and well. The medical team and the referee and the players all handled themselves very well. The main concern then was waiting on the news to see would he be okay. It just brought back memories of Fabrice Muamba, watching that and I remembering being upset, this was similar enough watching it.

“Thankfully now the main thing he is alright, he’s alive and that’s the biggest bonus. Whatever happens in the future, whether he plays or doesn’t play, we all need to be thankful he’s alive. Everyone reacted well at the time, I thought the Denmark captain and players were exceptional in the way they rallied around their team-mate.

“It’s been a tough 18 months for everyone. Everyone’s getting through it as best we can, everyone’s working from home and that. But little things like that too, it’s just another shock to the system. Whatever wee things we can be thankful for, we need to find.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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