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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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'We don't have Richard Dunnes, Robbie Keanes and Damien Duffs to carry us through anymore'

Seamus Coleman expects Ireland to be back on track in 2019.

Paul Dollery reports from Aarhus, Denmark

SEAMUS COLEMAN FEELS the onus will be on the senior players, including himself, to set an example if Ireland are to ensure that next year isn’t as miserable as its predecessor.

A year that produced just one win from nine games concluded last night with a goalless draw in the Uefa Nations League against Denmark in Aarhus.

Seamus Coleman after the game Ireland captain Seamus Coleman applauds supporters following last night's draw against Denmark. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The visitors showed no attacking ambition whatsoever, placing 10 players behind the ball for the vast majority of the game, while Aiden O’Brien had the unenviable — and ultimately fruitless — task of ploughing a lonely furrow up front. 

Ireland’s place at the bottom of Group B4 was already cemented prior to the game. Martin O’Neill’s side finished the inaugural campaign with a tally of two points from a possible 12.

When the squad reassembles to begin the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in March, Coleman wants the more established players to step up to the plate and ease the transition for the newcomers to the international stage.

“There’s no secret about it. There’s no way of dressing it up. It’s been a disappointing year, no doubt about that,” said the Republic of Ireland skipper.

It’s been a learning curve for myself and some of the other lads who have 40 or 50 caps.

“We don’t have Richard Dunnes, Robbie Keanes and Damien Duffs to carry us through anymore. We have to take that baton now and maybe some of us haven’t done that strongly enough.

“The new lads coming in will have learned a lot from this year. That, in a way, is some kind of positive to take from a negative year. Mentally we can be a lot stronger going into the games in March. That’s how we have to look at it.”

A third clean sheet from four games might make for pleasant reading for Ireland, but the caveat attached to that statistic is that they also haven’t scored a goal in the same period. They failed to conjure up a single shot on target for the entirety of last night’s game.

The Ireland team The Ireland team pictured before the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“A clean sheet away from home is a positive,” Coleman said. “We still need to be better in the attacking third and all the rest. I know it wasn’t the prettiest of games, but we had to dig in and we can take some pride in the clean sheet.”

Having produced a series of woeful displays in 2018, the national team and manager Martin O’Neill have come under scrutiny. It has been more intense than anything Coleman has experienced since making his Ireland debut in 2011, but coping with such pressure is part-and-parcel of being an international footballer, he says.

There’s a lot of criticism. For myself, maybe it’s a little bit new to be this scrutinised at international level.

“Before the game, I said to the lads to be proud to wear that shirt. As kids, we grew up wanting to play for Ireland. Yes, there’s going to be pressure every time you put on that shirt, but enjoy it. 

“It’s hard to enjoy it all the time when you’re under pressure, but you’ve got to remember what you wanted to play football for, which was to represent your country. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. It’s been a tough year, we can learn a lot from it and I think we can improve.”

The draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers will take place in Dublin on 2 December, when Ireland will discover who they’ll be competing against as they aim to reach a third consecutive European Championship.

Denmark: Denmark vs Ireland - UEFA Nations League Coleman is challenged by Denmark's Andreas Bjelland. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

In spite of the team’s decline this year, Coleman is confident that the Boys in Green will be ready for whatever comes their way when the campaign kicks off next spring.

“We’re obviously hoping for the best draw we can get,” the 30-year-old said. “We’re capable of big nights and we can’t forget that. It’s not been a great year but mentally we can learn a lot from it.

Personally I learnt a lot. I’m sure some of the older lads have as well.

“We need to step up a little bit more. Come March, I have no doubt that we’ll be ready. I know we have to say that but I truly believe we’ll be ready.”

He also dismissed the suggestion that Ireland would benefit from a change in management: “We’re in the game long enough to know that these questions are going to be asked. The management team have been great. You ask any of the lads, they’re right behind us. They’re giving us all the confidence they possibly can.

“We have to take responsibility as well. That’ll always be my stance on things.” 

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Paul Dollery

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