Seamus Coleman began his long journey back to recovery on Saturday as he contemplated at least six months out of football following the double leg break he suffered as a result of a challenge by Neil Taylor in the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales.
Coleman underwent surgery in a Dublin hospital on Saturday and will have screws inserted in his right leg to aid the recovery process. The Ireland management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane visited him in hospital on Friday night; beyond Dublin many expressed their support for a hugely popular character playing some of the best football of his career.
Coleman is a talented athlete, Ireland’s best player, a willing volunteer in Everton’s Community programme in Liverpool and someone who shuns the trappings of fame.
The Everton defender is respected as a player and liked as a man in equal measure. That is why there has been such an emotional reaction to the sight of him screaming in agony, as his leg, the bone clearly broken, hung loose in the air.
When O’Neill saw the extent of the damage (he was close enough to the tackle from Taylor to hear the crack in Coleman’s shin) he doubled over. When Coleman’s Ireland team-mate, the Southampton striker Shane Long, saw him suffering, he got down on his knees and cradled his friend’s head.
Injuries are inevitable in a contact sport, but the visibly emotional reactions from O’Neill and Long are rare. It is an indication of how highly Coleman is thought of. Asked whether Coleman’s injury could end his career, O’Neill replied: “Yes, of course. It just didn’t look good. When I saw Seamus holding his leg it didn’t look great. I was pretty shaken by it.
“To say I am disappointed for the player would be an understatement. Coleman has just been fantastic since I have arrived here. His attitude has been strong. It’s not just attitude, it’s his whole playing ability and demeanour, everything about him. He’s a great character and captain considering he is one who is so quiet off the field. He will be badly missed by us and his club. He’s having a season of a lifetime.”
O’Neill, though, pointed out that Henrik Larsson, the Sweden international who excelled for him at Celtic, had made a full recovery from a similar injury. Like Coleman, Larsson shattered his leg in two places, while playing against Lyon in 1999, and, although out for eight months, returned to play on for Celtic, Barcelona and briefly Manchester United.
“Seamus is such a mentally strong character that he wouldn’t have got to where he has got without having that,” said O’Neill. “He has ability but he has lots of things to go with it. Larsson was a brilliant player and came back from that injury and hopefully Seamus will do the same.”
Until Coleman makes a full recovery, there will be that nagging fear that, at the age of 28, arguably the best right-back in the Premier League will never quite be the same again.
“He is a fantastic professional, a brilliant player and a lovely boy,” said Sunderland manager David Moyes, who signed Coleman for Everton for just £60,000 in 2009. “It’s a horrendous injury, but if anyone can recover from something like this... He will do everything asked of him and more.
“The good thing is, with the way medical science has advanced, I’m sure he will be back. I think everyone in the game hopes so because nobody ever has a bad word to say about Seamus.”
There is a view in Ireland that Wales lost their heads because they were rattled, bruised and frustrated by Ireland’s relish for physical contact.
They had been warned by Ireland’s assistant manager, Roy Keane, to expect to be “hit” but lashed out when they were, even though Ireland had picked up just one booking before the Coleman incident.
Moments before Taylor’s over-the-top-of the ball lunge, Gareth Bale was extremely fortunate not to be shown a red card for an equally bad challenge on John O’Shea. “I am very lucky – when you consider what has happened to Seamus,” said O’Shea. “On another night, they could have had two red cards.
“It is one of those things – a derby situation – and you do expect tackles, but within reason. There is no problem getting a hard tackle, but when people are very late, and stuff like that, it is a different story… When I saw the Bale tackle on television, yeah, I was annoyed a little bit. Thankfully. I’m walking away from it.”
It promises to be an intense return fixture in Cardiff in October.
“Seamus will face a lengthy recovery period and we will support him throughout this,” said his Everton manager Ronald Koeman. “He is a really strong character, has a great family around him and we, his extended family at Everton, will be here for him to help him get through this over the coming days, weeks and months.”
Significantly, among those tweeting support on Saturday was Coleman’s Ireland team-mate, Brentford’s Alan Judge. A year ago, Judge was completing the season of his life and on the brink of joining Coleman in the Ireland squad for Euro2016 and a big-money move to the Premier League. Then last April he too suffered adouble leg break while playing against Ipswich.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Seamus and his family get well soon, #bestrong,” tweeted Judge. Now back in full training, Judge is expected to make his first-team return for Brentford next month.