Ireland soccer skipper Seamus Coleman could have taken a different path had he stayed in Donegal. Shaun Casey chats with a man who has never lost touch with the GAA
SEAMUS Coleman’s mind begins to drift sometimes. How things could have been so much different. At just 16 years of age, the Republic of Ireland international had a straight choice that boiled down to a 50-50 call.
Follow in the footsteps of fellow Killybegs’ clubman and All-Ireland winner Manus Boyle and pull on the famed green and gold Donegal jersey at minor level or head to Sligo Rovers and begin the lifestyle of a professional footballer.
The 34-year-old ultimately went with the latter and that leap of faith saw him secure a move across the water. Barring a loan spell with Blackpool in 2010, he’s been with Everton the entire time.
In 2019, he was named as captain of the Toffees and has played for the club over 350 times.
“I had to pick one or the other at the time,” recalled Coleman, who won a Buncrana Cup medal with the Donegal u-16s in 2004.
“It was county minors or go to Sligo Rovers and I suppose it was a tougher decision that anyone could really imagine at that time.
“Going from a Gaelic town and being quite good at Gaelic, to actually having to make that decision was quite harder than people maybe even think. But I made the decision, and it was tough for a couple of years but thankfully it worked out well.”
The dream was always to return home back to the Emerald Isle. But as the years have gone on, time waits for no man and while Coleman will be no stranger to the hills of Donegal, he envisions a career in management once he hangs up the boots.
“When you move away from home at a young age you miss out on so many years at home. I think from when I moved over here until the last few years, I always thought I’d go home and move back to Ireland.
“And that still could be the case, but I have three kids that are well settled and things like that and I can get home as much as I want obviously.
“When I came over first, I was thinking of going home but now, the more I’ve been involved in football and the more I’ve been involved with different managers, I love it and football, I absolutely idolise it.
“I’ve got no God-given right just because I played to be a manager, but it’s something that I would work very hard at and start off at the right rung in the ladder to try and be successful.”
When the average man imagines a Premier League footballer, lots of money, the latest clothes and the fanciest cars are what immediately spring to mind. But Coleman is different.
Growing up in the community spirit that the GAA provides, mixing with the people that run and support the club is nothing new for GAA folk.
And Coleman has carried that tradition all the way to Everton.
“I live in the city, and I know what it means to the fans. I think that all Premier League clubs and all Premier League players could do with walking around the city of where their club is now and again and getting a feel for the club that you play for.
“When I was out walking my kids or whatever the case may be towards the end of last season and the season before, I’d have all sorts of people coming up to you, not giving you a hard time whatsoever, but you could genuinely see the love, the passion, the emotion attached to their football club and the desperation at times.
“They live it, it’s their life and you have to have an understanding of that.. If you want to play for a football club you’ve got to understand what the club means to the people and ultimately, they’re the most important because they spend their money, they’ve followed it since they were young.
“I think a lot of clubs and a lot of players could do with walking around the city of where their club is sometimes. We kind of isolate ourselves, Premier League footballers, from reality at times.
“I just think it’s so important and I learned a lot over the last couple of years from being out and about and believe me, there were times when I didn’t go out and about as well because you didn’t want to be seen talking.
“But you would come across that odd person and you would just see it in them, what it meant to them. It’s not all these people that are giving you stick or anything like that. It’s these people that love the football club and back you and support you.
“They’re just desperate for their club to do well and you can see it in their faces. It adds a bit of pressure but atI least when I come away from those conversations, I understand why I’m here and what I’m doing it for because the fans are so important.”
Coleman has been an ever-present on the Everton team over the last decade, but a knee injury against Leicester back in May has kept him sidelined ever since. The Killybegs native missed Everton’s relegation run in, which they survived, at the end of last season and is currently on the mend and eyeing up a return.
“I’m better than I thought I would be coming off the pitch that night to be honest with you,” explained Coleman. “I didn’t think the best that night, it’s still a significant injury but I’m recovering well and hitting all the targets so far.
“I’ve been back on the grass the last couple of weeks, not with the team but with the physios and back with a ball. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to feel better.
“Without putting a target on it (a return date) because that’s not what they’re doing as such, it’s kind of reaching points and scores in the gym before you move on but at the minute, I’m doing all that.
“In six or eight weeks maybe or something like that I’ll be back at it fully.
“When I got injured that night, the way it felt, I knew straight away that my season was over, but I didn’t really know how bad it was going to be until after that. I was waiting on scans, but we did think it was going to be a lot worse than it actually was.
“The next few weeks were tough because of everything that was going on here. You can’t be on the grass with the lads, you can’t really see what’s going on, but I was still massively involved speaking to the group and making them understand the situation.
“Thankfully we scraped through in the end and it’s not an achievement to scrape through, but it just made the summer a little easier to get over the line.”
While most of the Republic of Ireland skipper’s attention is focused on Merseyside and keeping Everton in the Premier League after a nervy few years gone by, he still finds time to check in on how his home county is progressing.
“It can be difficult to keep an eye on it because the last couple of years that we’ve had, it’s hard to keep an eye on anything barring your own situation,” added Coleman, who has made 68 appearances for his country.
“But there’s a couple of the club lads that are playing which is always of interest, Eoghan Bán (Gallagher) and Hugh McFadden. I always try to keep an eye out and keep an interest and when I’m home, if I can, I’ll go to the games.
“It’s part of me, it’s something that I love, and I was at the All-Ireland final and I really enjoyed that as well. But it’s hard to keep an eye on it and watch every single game.”