Martin O’Neill has insisted that, despite Seamus Coleman’s Mr Nice Guy persona, he didn’t think twice about making the Everton wingback the new Republic of Ireland captain.
With Robbie Keane and John O’Shea on the bench, Coleman wore the armband in the 1-0 upset of Italy and the 2-1 defeat to France in the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2016. Keane announced his international retirement following the tournament, prompting O’Neill to make Coleman his permanent skipper heading into 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying.
"If Seamus walked into this room here he would be very polite,” O’Neill explained to FAI TV. “He would be well mannered and you would think he was actually quite quiet. On the field he is totally different. I saw these things anyway even before he became captain. So it was no big leap of faith from my point of view making him captain. I felt he was pretty natural and he has gone and proven that.”
Seamus's play has actually been enhanced as captain.
Coleman has, and he’s excelled while doing so. The Killybegs native was arguably Ireland’s best player in the backs-to-the-wall 2-2 draw in Serbia. He scored the only goal - his first in an international career that began in 2011 – in the win over Georgia. He got an assist in the victory away to Moldova. And he was infallible in the shock 1-0 success in Austria, making a super block from Marko Arnautovic.
"Sometimes when you take over the captaincy your own form suffers a little bit because you are concerned about the effect you are having on other people,” said O’Neill. “I know this myself – I was captain of Northern Ireland for half my time as a player. In the early parts you are worried about your influence. You are hoping you are going to be a really good influence and sometimes your own play can suffer a little bit.
“Seamus's play has actually been enhanced as captain, if it's anything to go by at both club and national level."
Republic of Ireland sit top of Group D in European qualifying for Russia 2018, two points clear of Serbia and four above third-placed Wales.
The Irish didn’t qualify for the World Cup until 1990, when they drew with the Netherlands to reach the knockout phase, eliminated Romania on penalties, and lost 1-0 to Italy in the quarter-finals. The third and last World Cup they played at was Korea/Japan 2002.