At the end of a tense night in Dublin, where emotions were still running high long after the final whistle, Martin O’Neill sounded like a man in a state of shock as he reflected on the awful moment when Séamus Coleman reached out to hold on to his broken right leg. “I was pretty shaken by it,” the Republic of Ireland manager said.
It was a reckless challenge from Neil Taylor, the Wales left-back, and it was easy to see why television companies decided against showing a replay. O’Neill had not seen the tackle again and the last thing he wanted to hear was that there was a picture of the lower part of Coleman’s leg pointing in the wrong direction. He was informed that it was similar to the awful photograph that circulated after Henrik Larsson broke his leg while playing for Celtic, the year before O’Neill became the club’s manager. “Don’t tell me that,” O’Neill said.
Coleman’s injury totally overshadowed the goalless draw on Friday. “To say I am disappointed for the player would be an understatement,” O’Neill said. “Coleman has been fantastic since I’ve arrived here. His attitude has been strong. But it’s not just attitude, it’s his whole playing ability and demeanour, everything about him. He will be badly missed by us and his club.”
At the same time, O’Neill pointed to the way that Larsson recovered and was quick to stress that Coleman possesses all the attributes to do likewise. “Séamus is such a mentally strong character that he wouldn’t have got to where he has without having that. He has ability but he has a lot of things to go with it,” he said. “Henrik Larsson was a brilliant player and came back from that injury and hopefully Séamus will do the same. I would have great confidence he will do.”
Taylor received a red card for the tackle and was described as devastated that his actions had led to such a serious injury. “He’s numb. He hasn’t said a word,” Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, said. “I was the first one into the dressing room after the game, he was sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. He’s had a bad break himself, he knows what that is all about. He’s absolutely devastated. That doesn’t make it any easier for Séamus or the Republic of Ireland.”
The challenge on Coleman was not the only one that upset Ireland. Gareth Bale was booked for a foul on John O’Shea that prompted the Sunderland defender to question whether Wales should have had two players sent off. “I’ve had plenty of stitches put in there,” O’Shea said. “I was lucky considering what has happened to Séamus. On another night there could have been two red cards.”
Those incidents, in particular the one involving Coleman, took attention away from the ramifications of a result that leaves Wales with plenty of work to do if they are to qualify for the World Cup finals. They are four points behind Serbia and the Republic of Ireland at the halfway stage and will have to travel to Belgrade in June without Bale, whose yellow card in Dublin was his second of the campaign, resulting in a suspension.
As for Ireland, they are in a strong position, especially with three of their remaining five matches at home, starting with Austria’s visit in June. O’Neill will hope to be picking from a stronger squad for that game, with Robbie Brady forced to miss the Wales match through suspension and Ciaran Clark, Shane Duffy, Wes Hoolahan and Harry Arter all ruled out through injury. Ireland also lost James McCarthy during the warmup on Friday night, in a development that will do nothing to improve the fractious relationship between Ronald Koeman, the Everton manager, and O’Neill.
Asked on the back of Coleman’s injury whether his next conversation would be with Koeman, O’Neill said: “Why would that be? This happens in the game. At club level I have lost players myself to injuries. Let me be clear on this, I asked to speak to Ronald a couple of weeks ago and he refused to do so. That’s all right, that’s fine. It’s not a problem at all. Séamus Coleman’s injury can happen in the game unfortunately.”