“No one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville”, but what about a Seamus Coleman?

Back in 2009, my third class primary school teacher made the decision to create a Fantasy Football league to be contested between himself and my classmates.

As is the case with many Fantasy Football substitute benches, my teacher’s bench was littered with a host of cheap players, all seemingly thrown together without a second thought, in a drastic attempt to free up the funds required to squeeze the Rooneys, Drogbas and Van Persies of the world into the one strike force.

One of these inexpensive benchwarmers was an unknown youngster, who would go on to make just three Premier League appearances in the 2009/2010 campaign, with each of which coming off the bench. The player in question hailed from my teacher’s hometown of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, and had made the cut for each and every Fantasy Football squad created by a native of this small proud town.

Fast forward 11 seasons and that unknown £60,000 valued defender has now made 312 Premier League appearances. He dons the captain’s armband for both his club and country. This man is Ireland’s one and only, Seamus Coleman.

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Following the arrival of Rafael Benítez to Goodison Park in June 2021, the Irishman has now worked under two Champions League winning managers. But only one manager can claim to be the first to coach Coleman at an elite level. While Rafa was lifting the Champions League in Istanbul with Merseyside rivals Liverpool, his now-Everton captain was balancing Gaelic football with soccer, completely unaware that in less than 18 month’s time he would be putting pen to paper on his first professional contract and linking up with manager Sean Connor at The Showgrounds.

On this day 13 years ago (1 January 2009) the Irishman traded red for blue and joined David Moyes’ Everton. Three years prior to this, St Catherine’s of Killybegs succumbed to a 5-0 thrashing against League of Ireland elite Sligo Rovers in a pre-season friendly. What started as an opportunity for the then-Sligo manager Connor to give his players a run out against a lesser opposition, quickly developed into something far more beneficial, as it was on this day that he first crossed paths with a 17-year-old Coleman.

“We won the game easily and Seamus only played for 20 or 25 minutes, but he stood out because he was one of the few players on the pitch that didn’t seem to be in awe of our players. I remember speaking to one or two of my boys who played against him, and asking them what they thought of the kid. They said he was strong and hard to play against, so straight away after that we started discussions with Seamus and his family,” Connor recalled.

Whilst Connor may have only spent a matter of months coaching the Donegal man before taking the managerial hot seat at Dalymount Park, this short period of time was more than enough to gauge that the Killybegs man had the ability to make it in England:

Back then I could certainly see him playing in the Championship, that was never going to be a bother to him. He absolutely had the potential to go across the water, but having that potential and ability to make it in England, and actually doing it, are two very different things.

You need to take the right offer and have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with whatever opportunity is given. Seamus came from a very good family background; his family was very well rounded. His parents weren’t pushy, they were just in the background supporting him, and I think having that in the background was a very stable base for Seamus to push on.

Considering that he comes from a town which boasts just a little more than 1,000 people, it might be expected that the success boasted by the Irish captain has catapulted him into a God-like figure amongst the Killybegs public. It is therefore a testament to the man that he carries himself like a layperson, equal to all around him.

“Seamus Coleman is a really good person. I’m very aware of the high regard that he’s held within the town of Killybegs. He does a lot of great stuff here, unbeknown to other people. I know myself that Seamus would do a lot of work under the radar. He’s a very private person and he doesn’t try to grab the limelight. I think this is the sort of quality that makes him a really good captain for his club and for his country, he’s very highly respected by this community, by kids and adults alike. Anyone that I know only has good things to say about Seamus as a man,” Connor stated.

Michael Jordan’s iconic quote that you must “earn your leadership every day,” is personified by Coleman on a daily basis. Throughout his career, the Killybegs native has shown exemplary leadership qualities through his extensive involvement with charities and fundraising projects. His lack of social media presence can often allow his charitable deeds to go under the radar.

The ever-humble Irishman would be the first to dispute the following claim, but in many ways, Coleman is Ireland’s answer to Marcus Rashford. Rashford, of course, has been a shining light for what footballers can achieve away from the pitch. While it may be unlikely that we see the Everton skipper following in the Manchester United ace’s political footsteps and going toe to toe with Micheál Martin anytime soon, it is evidently clear that Coleman recognizes the privileged position that the beautiful game has awarded him and is determined to use that position for the greater good of society.

Despite the various blockades that have been placed at the feet of charity organisations thanks to COVID-19 induced restrictions, the Irish captain has persisted with his desire to support a whole host of various fundraising campaigns in the past two years. 

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Right at the top of the list of Coleman’s inspirational charitable deeds performed during the opening months of the pandemic lies the Everton and Ireland full back’s incredible €20,000 donation to ‘Feed the Heroes’. The purpose of this voluntary group was to cover the costs of meals for doctors, nurses, Gardaí, and other frontline workers while the newly arrived coronavirus was emerging.

Having been made aware of the voluntary groups inspirational actions thanks to his former international teammate, and then-Irish under-21 assistant manager Keith Andrews, the Irish skipper was more than happy not only to provide such a substantial amount of money, but also to post a video message to promote the campaign to his fan base.

Thanks to generous contributions from the likes of Coleman, this campaign which initially set out with the intention of raising €250, ended up reaching the unbelievable high of over €300,000. As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc and tough Christmas restrictions have swept the nation for the second year on the bounce, there is a lot to be said for the importance of looking back and listening to what Coleman had to say on the matter almost two years ago:

It’s a tough time for all of us at the moment, for all Irish people, for all people around the world, but speaking for Irish people I know, we are a very proud nation, we stick together, we work hard for each other. I know it’s a tough time at the minute, but we will get through this. Stay positive. Keep fighting…I want us all to stick together at this time.

The dark days of the early stages of the pandemic will always be somewhat fondly remembered by the Irish people thanks to the metaphorical sunshine provided by way of the Do it for Dan campaign. The objective of this fundraising drive was to raise over €2 million in an attempt to provide a baby boy, Dan Donoher from county Laois, with the opportunity to access a rare medical treatment in the USA.

The way in which the Irish population united in such ominous times warmed the hearts of many, as a nationwide effort resulted in over €3.3 million being raised. Without a doubt one of the most influential supporters of this campaign was Coleman, who not only selflessly donated €15,000 towards the cause, but also rang Dan’s parents to offer his unwavering support of the campaign, whether that be represented by donating match worn jerseys or simply staying in contact with the Donoher family.

Unfortunately, following the fundraising campaign, Dan contracted a virus which prevented him from availing of the desired treatment. In an extraordinary exhibition of compassion Dan’s parents donated €1 million towards a young Meath girl, Olivia Mulhern, who required treatment for her fight against spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1.

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Always keen to look after his own, in June 2020 the Everton skipper also pledged €1757 worth of support towards a five kilometre charity cycling event undertaken by Toffees’ fan and Irish comedian Stevo Timothy. Having suffered a debilitating spinal injury in a road accident 15 years prior to this event, the Irishman became partially paralysed and was left with no option but to rely on a wheelchair or crutches for the rest of his life. Unbelievably, Timothy was able to overcome incredible odds and participate in the aforementioned cycling event, an exploit which resulted in over €60,000 being raised for the Irish Wheelchair Association. 

It goes without saying that Coleman’s ethics are not only seen in the charity sector. In April 2021, when the infamous announcement of the impending establishment of the European Super League, which proposed that twenty high-profile European football clubs would break away and compete in a new midweek competition, was met with utter contempt by lovers of the beautiful game across the globe.

As it was widely documented at the time, this farce was orchestrated by egocentric football club owners, without a second thought for the feelings of the fans who already face enough challenges in regard to holding on to the community values associated with their respective clubs.

In a similar vein, the players of the founding 12 clubs were also not consulted prior to the pronouncement. This is proven by the fact that Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson masterminded an emergency meeting between Premier League captains in an attempt to prevent this moral atrocity from materialising. One of the captains in question would obviously have been Coleman. In addition to attending this meeting, the Irishman as per usual used his standing to fight for what was right as he took to his club’s website to issue his thoughts on the matter:

I’m quite a laid-back person, things don’t bother me that much, but when the proposal was announced it just left a horrible feeling as a football fan, never mind as a player. It just automatically felt off, it didn’t feel good or right. When I saw the statement from my own football club condemning the plans, how strong they were and how they spoke from the heart, it gave me massive pride to be part of this football club.

We are known as The People’s Club and that showed. Times like this make you so proud to be part of Everton because we are about the fans – and we always have been. We all understand football is a business but that’s only to a certain degree. Football is nothing without the fans and it never will be anything without the fans. Supporters showed owners at the top of these clubs how fans continue to be so important.

Thankfully, the views of Everton’s number 23 were echoed by fellow professionals, fans and broadcasters across the continent, which eventually resulted in the competition being scrapped within 72 hours of its launch. 

In the immortal words of Jamie Carragher;

No one wants to be a full back as a kid, no one wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville.

Now that may be true, although eight Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies doesn’t sound too horrific. Nevertheless, there are a plethora of young boys and girls across the Emerald Isle and beyond who could do significantly worse than viewing Seamus Coleman as a role model and someone to emulate in the future.

“As a captain, as a leader, and as a role model for the people of the country and young aspiring players, Seamus Coleman would be right at the top of the list,” Connor concluded.

The Author

Gareth Lyons

DCU STUDENT, AGED 21. MANCHESTER UNITED, SHELBOURNE AND IRELAND SUPPORTER. ALSO WRITE FOR THE COLLEGE VIEW. FOOTBALL, GAA, RUGBY AND F1 FAN. EMAIL: GARETHLYONS00@GMAIL.COM

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