x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Everton winger Seamus Coleman in the right place at the right time

Switch from Gaelic football to the beautiful game and a move from the League of Ireland to the English Premier League have proved fruitful, writes Richard Jolly.

Seamus Coleman has established himself at Everton despite a forgettable debut in 2009/10. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Seamus Coleman has established himself at Everton despite a forgettable debut in 2009/10. Ian Walton / Getty Images

Many a Premier League player grew up wanting to be a footballer. Not too many dreamed of becoming a Gaelic footballer. In that, as in much else, Everton's Seamus Coleman was an exception.

His background is a reason the Irishman took the indirect route to the top. The global game came a distant second to a local favourite in terms of priorities for a sport-mad youngster. "If the games clashed with football, I would always go to my Gaelic [football] game," he said.

It is why, while his peers were starring in the Premier League, the right-sided player still plied his trade in the League of Ireland.

Yet although Coleman has just signed a new five-and-a-half year contract to stay at Everton, money played a part in his belated decision to put football first: around £130 (Dh747) a week, to be precise.

They were the wages offered by Sligo Rovers when they signed Coleman from St Catherine's, the team from his home town, Killybegs, a small fishing port in Ireland's north-west county, Donegal.

Even then, he was spotted by chance when Sligo faced St Catherine's in a friendly.

After two years in the Sligo side, however, he had a growing fan base. Glasgow Celtic and Birmingham City both showed an interest but, tipped off by his former Celtic teammate Willie McStay, Everton's David Moyes made his move.

While the Scot has a proven track record as a bargain hunter, it may prove the finest £60,000 he has spent. Not that Coleman assumed he had made it then.

"When I first came here on a two-year contract, I looked at it as a long-term trial," he said. "I had played a lot of games in the League of Ireland but the Premier League is obviously a step up."

Coleman almost did not get there. He arrived for Everton's pre-season tour of America with a blister on his foot which became infectious and then serious. The Irishman underwent an operation and only discovered later that his toe might have had to be amputated.

Even after that, things did not run smoothly. Coleman's debut came in the Uefa Cup – now the Europa League – and in the most demanding of environments: away in Benfica's Stadium of Light. A weakened Everton team lost 5-0. "It was all a bit surreal to me," he said.

It was the first of seven Everton appearances in a season that finished on a high. Coleman spent the final four months of 2009/10 on loan at Blackpool, helping the Seasiders win their surprise promotion to the Premier League.

He returned to Goodison Park for his breakthrough year, the 2010/11 season, when he was shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year.

Then he was a rampaging right winger who, in a 2-0 win against Liverpool, helped serve as Everton's derby destroyer.

After an underwhelming 2011/12 season, this year he has been restored to his preferred position.

"I have always said that I am a right-back," Coleman said. "It was a position I played in all my career when I was at Sligo Rovers and then when I went on loan to Blackpool."

But there have been questions about his defensive dependability, which resurfaced after November's defeat to Reading. They are in part because an unconventional background made him a different sort of player. "I have missed out on a lot of what the academy players get which was maybe good for me," the 24 year old said.

Initially that made him appear uncoached, part right-back, part free spirit as he hurtled up and down the flank. Everton's senior professionals have provided valuable advice and the captain Phil Neville was a particular help, even though the versatile veteran can be a rival for the full-back position.

Nevertheless, a buccaneering spirit remains. Coleman rates the goal he scored in the 5-1 FA Cup win over Cheltenham, dinked over the goalkeeper after a long run into the box, as the best of his career.

And as an essentially attack-minded right-back, he helps to add another dimension to Everton: a team known for their threat on the left flank, where Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar combine, are less one-sided.

Perhaps Coleman's adventurousness counted against him with the Republic of Ireland's conservative coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Although first capped in 2011, he was omitted from the Euro 2012 squad. He has since returned to the team, starting the 6-1 defeat to Germany but while his international performances have been more fitful, he has excelled for Everton.

Hence the new deal for the Gaelic footballer turned footballer.

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