Thursday 20 October 2016

No diversions for Coleman

Captain Seamus demands high standards ahead of his 40th cap

Coleman chats with team-mates at Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile
Coleman chats with team-mates at Abbotstown. Pic: Sportsfile
Ireland captain Seamus Coleman pictured in squad training ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile

Reaching the 40-cap mark and earning the captain's armband with your country is surely something for Seamus Coleman to be proud of.

But the defender, set to lead out Ireland in tonight's World Cup qualifier at home to Georgia, says there's room for improvement, for himself and the players around him, with the introduction of a stricter regime at club level getting more of an under-achieving Everton side.

A decade ago, Coleman was far off from the notion of captaining the national team in a World Cup qualifier. This week ten years ago, the Donegal man was a late sub for Sligo Rovers in a 4-0 hammering away to Derry City, not quite the stuff of dreams. Coleman admits surprise when told that he will win his 40th senior cap this evening but despite his status as the team's skipper, but he says this is no time to rest on his laurels.

"I think you're always trying to improve yourself and obviously to get to a tournament was a big achievement for us all. We all learnt a lot from it," says Coleman.

"Playing under different managers as well has improved me in different ways. But you always want to do better, you never think you are the finished article and you just want to keep improving, keep learning and try and get to this World Cup."

Robbie Keane introduced one major innovation in his time as Ireland skipper, the Parkhead-inspired huddle for the players on the field in the final few seconds before kick-off. Now installed as Keane's successor as captain, Coleman's not keen to rock the boat and change too much, but he is glad to see that some things have changed at his club.

The previous Everton boss, Roberto Martinez, was seen as a likeable man who also wanted to be liked and perhaps had allowed standards to slip at the club, standards which have been raised by the current manager, Ronald Koeman.

"We've had a disappointing two seasons unfortunately, finished 11th isn't where a team with our players should be but the manager has come in and worked hard and you always get a reaction when you get a new manager coming in," says Coleman.

"It's set a few standards that should have happened in the previous campaign as well: time keeping and that, make sure people are in on time is the standard should be the case, just sharpen the place up all round.

"The lads on the pitch now know that we have to perform or we won't be in the team which is the way it should be really." Coleman feels that the same has to apply for the national team in Dublin 4 this evening. He has a perfect personal record from his games against Georgia: two games and two wins for Coleman against the Georgians.

But Coleman's one of the thinkers in the Irish squad, capable of recalling - without being told by his boss and the staff around him - just how hard those wins were against Georgia. He's played in tough games against those boys from Tbilisi and also knows that Georgia beat Spain in a friendy in the summer.

"We know a lot about them from the last campaign, when we needed a little bit of magic from Aiden out there," he says, recalling that narrow 2-1 win in Tbilisi two years ago when a late goal from Aiden McGeady sealed the points.

"And at home as well, there was a slip and Jonny got his goal. They've beaten Spain not so long ago in a friendly match, they ran Germany close, Austria close, it's a tough game, it's not going to be a walkover by any means. We're going to have to be on our game to get a result."

The Everton boys are very keen to play for Ireland, that's clear from recent events. James McCarthy answered Ireland's call and reported for duty this week even though he's been out for weeks following surgery on a groin injury, while Coleman himself came up with a very admirable recovery from injury to feature for the side in Belgrade last month.

Everton can't be too pleased with that dedication to the Irish cause but Coleman would have it no other way.

"I was desperate to play, to play for your country, you're desperate to play," he says.

"There's no doubt about it, towards the end of the game, especially the way the pitch was digging up, it was quite hard to play the way we wanted to and the legs were getting heavy towards the end.

"So it was difficult but got the lads around me, you know when you are getting tired and you see Jonny Walters running 60 yard run back to help you out, that's what we're all about and when lads are tired, we try and dig in and help each other out, and the lads got me through that game in the end."

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