A salute to Seamus Coleman, Part II

Paulie: “Uh, Rock, you remember what I said about wanting to be you?”

 Rocky: “Yeah”

 Paulie: “Forget it.”

March 2017, the Republic of Ireland were taking on Wales in a World Cup qualifier when Neil Taylor fired into a challenge with Seamus Coleman, foot shin high, for a ball he stood no chance of getting to first. Cut to a few seconds later and Shane Long was sat cradling Seamus Coleman’s head as he lay prone, leg shattered and contorted, with bone protruding through his sock.

The striker continued to comfort his teammate as treatment and oxygen was administered, reminding him constantly throughout to breathe, before the Everton man was eventually carried from the field of play on a stretcher, settled for now but facing an uncertain future.

The images of the incident were sickening. As was the aftermath, with people such as ex-Liverpool player Dean Saunders rushing to claim the whole thing was ‘out of character’, alongside the ridiculous protestations of Chris Coleman. 

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His face a strange cross between some fella Joan Collins would have shagged on Dynasty and Dr Zira, the female chimp from Planet of the Apes, the Wales manager bleated away about the game being “a typical British derby” and bristled at the suggestion his team may have crossed the line.

“Are you saying all the bad challenges came from us?”, he petulantly asked afterwards, of a press-conference audience obviously pre-occupied with the shocking collision that had just seen a player suffer a horrific double leg-break. The fact Sky refused to show any replays of the incident, ‘on grounds of decency’, meant the Welshman was not deceiving anybody when he dismissively stated “I’ve not seen it again”.

One got the feeling that even if he had been strapped to a chair with the eyelid clamps from A Clockwork Orange prising his peepers open, as footage of his player leaping through the air toward an opponents leg played on a perpetual loop, he would have still obstinately refused to admit the possibility his charges may have been overly physical in their approach.

Apportioning blame, however, was the furthest thing from Seamus Coleman’s mind at that point. Instead, he must have been pondering how pride at representing his country on the International stage could, in one instant, be displaced by doubts about ever setting foot on the pitch at such a level again. 

Still, that dubiety tended to come almost exclusively from outsiders looking in…or rather, looking away in horror from pictures of a limb left twisted and hanging at an unnatural angle, like something R J MacReady would be going radge trying to melt with a flamethrower on the refrigerated set of The Thing

Those closest to the player never let such thoughts permeate his inner circle for an instant.

Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill, recognised the right-back's air of resolve from the off. “You talk about someone with a leg break getting back”, he mused, “and I have to reiterate that, when we saw him in the hospital in the first couple of nights, where he was really down, you felt an inner determination he would get through. That’s just his character.”

It was an overarching feeling of confidence shared by David Meyler, a close friend of Coleman’s since their days first breaking into the Irish Under-19s set-up together. As he remembers it, “People doubted him. Would he be the same player? That made me realise that these fellas don’t actually know him at all.”

Following surgery on the fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg, one of the first sights to greet Seamus as he awoke was that of his eldest daughter Lily treading tentatively into his hospital room, taking her very first steps toward her groggy but gratified father. As so often throughout his life, it would be amongst close family and the intimate surroundings of Killybegs where Coleman would find immediate solace, as well as the support and inspiration required to steer him through the early stages of a lengthy recovery.

“I know everyone loves where they’re from but I really do love Killybegs”, enthused Coleman of the hometown where his father still ran the local hotel and his father-in-law still fished from a mackerel trawler operating out of the harbour.

“I’m just Seamus who they’ve known playing the Gaelic and kicking a football against the wall on St Cummins Hill. There is peace and quiet and family and friends, walks along Fintra Beach and kids on the estate knocking on the door asking me to come outside to play football with them.”

While all such requests had to be politely declined for the time being, it wasn’t just local deviants looking for half an hour of ‘headers and volleys’ who came hammering at Coleman’s vestibule door.

One portly caller to the Donegal man’s harbour home during those peaceful days of convalescence was the Everton manager during that very period. As unexpected house guests go, Ronald Koeman turning up on your doorstep uninvited may have been more ‘Cluster Fuck’ than ‘Uncle Buck’, but the Dutchman had instantly recognised in Coleman qualities he richly admired (and, no doubt, if there were any lockers going he’d have let him have first dibs). 

Reminiscing about the events several years later, Koeman was quick to stress that “The way Seamus fought back was impressive. I think he has a strong character to fight for what he wants to achieve. He literally did everything that was needed to get back as soon as possible. He is an example for others.”

Elaborating further, the ex-Barca legend stated, “It was a horrific incident. A tragedy. Seamus is a good guy in many ways. I remember he was one of the first to congratulate me after our first successes with the Dutch national team. He has a great mentality and is a strong character. I found him to be a clubman also, always doing the best for his club. That’s great to see as a manager. In his way of approaching the game and doing everything to achieve goals, he is an example for others, in my opinion.”

Still not done showering praise on the man who only played under him for a relatively short period of time, Koeman summed up the esteem he holds the Everton right-back in: “Seamus is a perfect lad to have in your squad, a great manager, always showing maximum commitment and willingness. He’s a winner.”

Such attributes came to the fore as Coleman made a remarkably rapid recovery and returned to the Everton starting line-up in a 2-1 victory against Leicester, 10 months later.

Unlike Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne at the culmination of his own fight back from career-threatening injury, Coleman didn’t have to ask anyone what the loud, frenzied chanting that rang out to mark his ascent back to the top meant. He’d heard it many times before. After an early 40-yard sprint that saw him burst past several Leicester players, all four sides of the ground broke into a spontaneous chorus of “60 grand, 60 grand, Seamus Coleman”. 

Still going strong in injury time, his last action before leaving the pitch was to pay a heartfelt salute to the Gwladys Street for their support.

“I always knew this was a great club, a special club”, an emotional Seamus said afterwards. “I never wanted this injury to happen but it has reminded me that the club is amazing, as is the support I had from all the fans. I try to get involved as much as I can and help people outside of the game and I think I got that support back 10 times over.”

By then, Ronald Koeman had been dismissed from his role as Everton boss and his successor in the dug-out, ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce, couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. “It was like having a new player,” he enthused. “He is the example of a perfect professional and someone for every youngster at Everton to look up to. He has been out for months and plays like that. Imagine what he will be like when he is match fit – it's scary.”

Coleman would feature from the start a further 11 times that campaign and 30 the next. As would be expected following such a lengthy lay-off, form would naturally oscillate from outstanding one week, to rather more ordinary the next. Rarely, if ever, would performance levels drop down to the depths of piss-poor, but that didn’t prevent certain people from rushing to proclaim that the defender was now ready to be put out to pasture. 

People such as the ‘Seer Calchas’ of the modern day prediction game, ‘Mr Chatting Shite’, Mark Lawrenson, taking 5 minutes to slip away from his spot in line at the soup kitchen to state with supreme confidence, “It comes to everybody, in the end”. Discussing the dual pressure of Matt Doherty and Jonjoe Kenny challenging for his place in the Irish set-up and the Everton side, Lawrenson declared both would soon succeed him, as Coleman was now fighting a losing battle. “For Seamus, it's 'Father Time' I'm afraid”.

In fact, even prior to the injury, it seemed there were sections of the media who had prematurely set their sights on Seamus Coleman and his suitability to continue as Everton’s starting right-back. As far back as April 2016, the Liverpool Echo ran an article ludicrously titled “Seamus Coleman – What's gone wrong?”, in which it was claimed the former Sligo man was a shadow of his former self, had been putting in “predominantly poor” performances for ‘the past 2 seasons’ and “casually jaunted back”, instead of busting a gut, when opposition teams broke into space he left behind.

The writer posited that Coleman had effectively been ‘found out’ by other Premier League sides, that any attacking threat he once offered was now too easily snuffed out, that he had stagnated and failed to significantly improve any aspects of his game and, most disgustingly, that he had “let both himself and his side down.”

Despite erroneous claims of standards slipping, or sand rapidly seeping out from his now arl egg-shaped Irish body, the fact remained that every manager who rocked up at Finch Farm since Seamus first arrived at the club continued to quickly recognise that he was a player they could fully rely upon. Moyes, Martinez, Koeman, Allardyce. All had made him an integral part of their side and unashamedly extolled the virtues of his mentality and character. (The fact Rhodri Cannon of the red Echo reckoned he was crap was rather inconsequential).

So it was that the latest incumbent of the Goodison hot-seat, Marco Silva, named Coleman as the man to wear the captain's armband, in the absence of the suspended Phil Jagielka, for an early season clash with Southampton and sat back (or rather stood looking like an adult Eddie Munster) to watch the grateful recipient lead his side to the first victory of his nascent Everton reign.

After damn near a decade of having to put up with the team being led out by the flipper-footed purveyor of the floaty-fanny pass, Phil Neville, feigning passion for the cause, it was just nice to once again witness a proper Evertonian and a proper footballer full of pride at being given the honour of wearing the armband at Goodison.

Neville, with his overwhelming love for Manchester United, always seemed to have one eye on the past and the other plastered shut with shitloads of fake tan. Phil Jagielka, his successor, was a fine defender in his pomp (especially prior to his own nasty injury) and a good servant to the club, but always seemed to possess the persona of a prank-playing jocular Kids TV presenter, rather than a perfervid leader of men.

Following his inaugural game as Everton captain, Coleman gifted a stirring memento of the special occasion to possibly the greatest influence on both his professional career and his personal life. 

“I gave my mum my first armband and thanked her for all she’s done. We’ve got a brother back home, he’s got special needs. My mum and dad have been incredible for him”, Seamus said. “My mum has been our leader at home, so I said that to her when I gave her the armband. ‘I was the leader today but you’ve [always] been our leader’.”

Coleman would deputise for Jagielka a total of 22 times that season before assuming the mantle of skipper full-time in August 2019. 

Speaking of his pride at receiving such an honour, Seamus told the club's official website, “I am delighted. To be Everton captain is an amazing feeling.” However, he continued by adding the caveat, “But without talking it down, the captaincy doesn’t change who I am or what I do. With or without the armband, I give my all to this football club. Whether I play well or not, I give my all. The armband is a nice touch but it won’t change how I go about my day-to-day business.”

True to his word, it didn’t.

[To be concluded]

Read more Everton-related nonsense here: The Blue By You

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Reader Comments (8)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 19/05/2023 at 08:10:42
Another classic, John – much like Coleman himself.
Barry Rathbone
2 Posted 19/05/2023 at 20:56:45
To My Old Man's A Dustmen” (for those of a certain vintage):

We've got Seamus Coleman
He's faster than the cat
He cost a bag of buttons
Now whaddya think of that?

He came from lovely Ireland
And green he'll always be
But when he bleeds it's blue and white
For he's a great toffee

Oh we've got seamus coleman
He's faster than the cat
He cost a bag of buttons
Now whaddya think of that

Wingers try but they know why
There really is no shame
In bowing down to Seamus
The greatest in the game

[Back to the start and repeat till unconscious!]

Larry O'Hara
3 Posted 19/05/2023 at 21:01:01
I like that Coleman song actually.
Brent Stephens
4 Posted 19/05/2023 at 21:18:35
"without talking it down, the captaincy doesn’t change who I am or what I do. With or without the armband, I give my all to this football club. Whether I play well or not, I give my all. The armband is a nice touch but it won’t change how I go about my day-to-day business.”

Brilliant guy, Seamus.

And very good, Barry @ 2. And now one for the binman?

Barry Rathbone
5 Posted 19/05/2023 at 22:23:57
Brent @4

I've got loads of 'em. Here's one I dug out in honour of Big Nev

To Bread of Heaven (Cwm Rhondda)

Neville Southall king of all the goalies
A Welshmen true he never yields
Strikers cry, they thought it was all over
When he saves the crowd goes wild

Nev's from heaven
Nev's from heaven
He will save us ever more
He will save us ever more

Legend, champion he will be immortal
Blue defender of the faith
Call his name in dire need and peril
He will come to save the day

Nev's from heaven
Nev's from heaven
He will save us ever more
He will save us ever more

Paul Baxter
6 Posted 21/05/2023 at 11:25:56
Really enjoying these and looking forward to the next instalment. I actually forgot he’s only been captain since 2019, thought it had been a lot longer.
Shane Corcoran
7 Posted 21/05/2023 at 12:26:18
Beautiful John. Bursting with pride. Much needed after yesterday.
Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
8 Posted 21/05/2023 at 18:44:10
Today's Dave Hickson

Can you get a higher accolade?

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