Seamus Coleman was just 13-years-old when his native Republic of Ireland last played at a FIFA World Cup™. Growing up in the fishing port town of Killybegs in picturesque Donegal, Coleman – along with the rest of the nation – was captivated by Korea/Japan 2002, glued to the television with friends and family as the Boys in Green progressed to the Round of 16.
The tournament is fondly remembered by Irish fans for Robbie Keane’s injury-time equaliser against eventual finalists Germany in the group stage, with the then 21-year-old Keane charging into the box before lashing the ball past Oliver Kahn. Reminiscing about that memorable goal, Coleman can still picture it very clearly 14 years later.
“I remember the Robbie Keane goal [against Germany] like it was yesterday,” the Everton right-back told FIFA.com. “It was an unbelievable moment and a moment that most Irish fans will always remember, they’ll know where they were when that goal went in. It was a great time to support the country, a great tournament and hopefully we can give the younger generation something to cheer about by qualifying for the next one.”
Watching the goalscoring exploits of Keane as a bright-eyed supporter in 2002, Coleman would not only go on to call Republic of Ireland’s top scorer and most capped player a team-mate, but succeed him as national team skipper. Keane called time on his goal-laden international career in August 2016, having notched 68 goals in a staggering 146 international appearances.
While Coleman had a taste of captaining his country at UEFA EURO 2016, where he lead the Irish to an iconic group-stage victory against Italy, the 28-year-old was handed the captain’s armband on a permanent basis by manager Martin O’Neill ahead of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, following in the footsteps of Irish legend Keane.
“The manager rang me to let me know about it,” revealed Coleman. “Taking over from Robbie Keane is a massive step, as a kid growing up I always wanted to play for Ireland but to captain Ireland even tops that. It’s an amazing feeling and a very proud moment.
“You’re not going to replace what Robbie Keane did on the pitch but if I can take even a snippet of his enthusiasm and his pride for his country then I will have done well. He is a very proud Irishman, loved playing for his country and he let the lads know what it meant to pull on that green shirt so if I can take a little bit of that and pass it on, that’s all I’ll be looking to do because I can’t see me scoring 68 goals!”
*For the fans
*Like at EURO 2016, Coleman – along with the rest of his national team-mates – will be looking towards the fans for remarkable support. Renowned for their noise, passion and good humour, Coleman relishes playing in front of a vocal sea of green and feels the Irish support will have an important part to play in the country's quest to reach Russia 2018.
“They’ve really helped us get results over the years, especially when we played Italy and we needed something out there and we got a massive result that made us qualify out of the group,” said Coleman. “The fans travelled to the Euros and made themselves heard and they always behave themselves very well which is important as well when you go away. I’m very proud to play for supporters that are so passionate about their country."
The managerial partnership of head coach Martin O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane inspired Ireland to EURO 2016 qualification and the Boys in Green currently find themselves joint-top on points with Serbia in Group D of FIFA World Cup qualifying ahead of their next test against Austria on 12 November.
“It’s brilliant, I’m forever learning,” said Coleman of the O’Neill-Keane partnership. “They’ve both done so much in the game and we had a good spell at the Euros together and we’ll be looking to build on that. It’s been great so far and I’m always learning from them.”
After their valiant showing at Euro 2016 where they reached the knockout stages, there will be added expectation on Republic of Ireland to reach Russia 2018. In potentially qualifying for the country’s fourth World Cup, Coleman could follow in the footsteps of Irish icons such as Mick McCarthy, Andy Townsend and Steve Staunton in donning the captain's armband at the biggest stage.
“It would be unbelievable," he said. "First and foremost that will mean that the team has qualified so that’s the most important thing and then obviously the added bonus to that would be to add myself to that list, but I’m a team player so for me it’s all about the team getting there and the added bonus is the captain’s armband.”