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Thursday 17 October 2019

'I hope Luca will be a star'

Seamus Coleman during a Republic of Ireland training session at Quinta do Lago, Faro, Portugal
Seamus Coleman during a Republic of Ireland training session at Quinta do Lago, Faro, Portugal

Seamus Coleman believes that Irish football cannot fall over backwards to try and convince dual eligibility players to stick with the Ireland team.

And he insists there is only room in the Ireland camp for players who are desperate to play and will not duck out due to a niggle.

One of Coleman's tasks as Ireland captain at their training camp in Portugal this week was to welcome the latest call-up to the senior panel, Bolton player Luca Connell.

The 18-year-old was born in Liverpool but declared for Ireland, via his Dublin-born grandparents, at U16 level and he has played competitively for our youth teams.

Reports in England suggest that the English FA are tracking Connell. Earlier this week, Connell said he "wouldn't hold back" if Mick McCarthy asked him to line out in the Euro 2020 qualifiers, which would tie him to Ireland permanently.

But when asked by The Herald if he would speak to Gareth Southgate if the England boss asked to meet over a cup of tea, Connell stood on the fence. "I'm happy where I am at the minute. I'll go and see what happens over next few months," he said.

There is no suggestion that Connell is thinking of a switch to England but as happened with Declan Rice and Jack Grealish, there will always be a concern that top English-born talents in the Ireland set-up will be approached by the FA.

But Coleman says Irish football just has to deal with the issue.

"To be honest, it doesn't matter who comes through the door if they've got an English background. If they come through the door, they get welcomed like any young Irish player would get welcomed," Coleman insisted.

"It's not a case of being overly-nice hoping that they might stay - if the lads want to stay and play for Ireland, they will; if they don't, they're going to go on no matter what I do or the other lads do.

"There's obviously been no talk of that from Luca whatsoever. I know you have to ask those questions, but we just need to let the lad come in and enjoy his football and see where his career takes him. Hopefully that will be a lot of caps for the Republic of Ireland."

In his time as Ireland captain, Robbie Keane was very vocal on the topic of players not turning up for Ireland duty due to minor injuries or club issues, Keane in 2011 confessing to "frustration" after a series of withdrawals. And his successor as captain feels the same way as Keane.

"Maybe I've learned it from the likes of those lads, and now there's a group of us who are just so proud to play for Ireland and so passionate about playing for Ireland," Coleman said.

"For me, if you've got a niggle and you missed a game and you happened to play at the weekend for your club, you wonder how bad that niggle was.

"But I have to say in this group of lads, there has been no-one like that. Everyone is desperate to come in and play for their country, which is great."

After a dismal 2018, it's not just the sunny climate of Portugal this week which suggests that the clouds have lifted from the Ireland team. Keen to stress that he's not being critical of the previous regime. Coleman says the outlook is indeed brighter.

"As soon as a new manager comes in, the way players are now, they only think of themselves and the next game, so that gloom of last year wouldn't have carried through with anyone, and especially when the new manager came in, it was a fresh start for everyone, so everyone was running around trying to impress," he says.

"There's been no thoughts of how last year went or how the results went at all, it's just been looking forward and trying to impress, and there are still lads eager to impress and try to get into the team because I don't think anyone is guaranteed their place, which is a good sign," he added, pointing out that Denmark away is a revenge mission after recent displays against the Danes.

"You try your best not to go in with those thoughts, you just want to take the game on the game, but you just keep going back to it," Coleman says of the 5-1 World Cup defeat.

"I feel like we owe them one, definitely. We know that they're a good nation with some Champions League players and all the rest, so it will be tough.

"But I'm glad we're going away first and the togetherness that we have, we're all looking forward to the game, which is a good sign."

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