In making the transition from top-class Gaelic player to top-class professional association footballer, Séamus Coleman continued a tradition first set by his countryman Val Harris a century earlier. If his entry in an Everton shirt was traumatic – played out of position in a 5-0 mauling in Benfica – his subsequent ascent has been impressive indeed.
Originally a Gaelic footballer, playing to county level in his native Donegal, he was spotted as a 17-year-old and offered the chance to play professional soccer with Sligo Rovers in Ireland’s Premier League, earning a salary of €150 per week. Admitting it was a tough choice to turn his back on the sport he had played all his life, his initial plan was to try out soccer and turn back to the Gaelic game if things didn’t work out.
But his performances as Sligo Rovers’ right back confirmed his all-round pedigree and he was soon attracting the notice of English scouts. Everton saw off reputed interest from Celtic to sign him for just £60,000 in January 2009.
Initially blooded as a full back, Coleman came into his own on the right side of the Everton midfield where his pace, verve and fearlessness saw him soar past more heralded opponents.
The nightmare of Benfica was swiftly obliterated. In December 2009, making only his second Premier League appearance, he was introduced as a substitute at home to Tottenham Hotspur. With Everton lucky to be trailing just 2-0 nobody had counted on the young novice. Played in down the right on 78 minutes, Coleman cut past Gareth Bale with ease before playing the ball in to Louis Saha who finished at the near post. On 86 minutes Coleman again found himself in space on the right side of the penalty area. His low cross caused havoc and when Leighton Baines drilled it back in from the right Tim Cahill stooped to equalise. It was quite an introduction to the top flight.
Coleman was subsequently loaned out to Blackpool and played an important part in their successful promotion push, appearing in the 2010 playoff final. His return to Goodison the following season was a success, and his form kept out £8.9million signing Diniyar Bilyatedinov and earned him a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year, the first time an Everton player had been short-listed for the award since Wayne Rooney.
He captained Ireland’s under-21 team and was called up to the full national squad in October 2010, making his international debut against Wales in February 2011.His strength and honesty have endeared him to Evertonians and Coleman ascribes them to his roots in the Gaelic game. ‘I think some of my Gaelic experience has been useful here,’ he told the Guardian in October 2011.
It’s a harder game for a start. If you get pushed you get straight back up. You don’t roll around looking at the referee for a free kick and you wouldn’t get one if you did in Gaelic. It’s a fight – nothing too serious, but it is pure determination and I think I brought that with me here. I just had to play soccer the way I played Gaelic and thankfully it has worked out.