Former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr believes Seamus Coleman will be one of the key players for Ireland at this summer’s European Championship finals.
Kerr said the Irish have a good chance of qualifying from their group - even though he feels they face three very difficult group matches.
Now a radio and television pundit, Kerr was in Letterkenny on Sunday where he was special guest at the annual underage awards night hosted by Letterkenny Rovers.
Shane Duffy, whose father Brian is from Letterkenny, was special guest at the same event in 2010 and he’s one of three local players, along with Shay Given and Coleman, to be included in the Irish squad.
However, Kerr believes of the three, Coleman will have a major part to play.
“Seamus Coleman is going to be a key player for us,” Kerr said.
“He’s had a mixed season at Everton. He had a few injuries and missed some games. The form of the team wasn’t particularly good and I think he suffered with the team not being in great shape. His own form suffered at times.
“But with Ireland he has been better, more consistent. He’s understanding the role of being a defender first and then attacking, whereas with Everton, it always seems to be a bit skewed looking - that the full-backs are attackers first and then God guides them as regards the defending.”
Kerr said Coleman has developed as a person and a player since being overlooked for the Euro 2012 finals by a “stubborn” Giovanni Trapattoni. He said he’s often asked about Coleman when he attends games at Everton, but when he asks supporters what they think of their player, they all love him.
“It’s a fantastic story how he started out at St. Catherine’s and went to Sligo Rovers before joining Everton and then playing for Ireland,” Kerr said.
“He’s a really important player for the team and I hope he’s in the best of shape to do himself justice.”
Kerr said Darren Randolph is probably favourite to start in goal against Sweden and suggested that Shay Given was perhaps fortunate to be named in the squad.
“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen on the goalkeeping situation,” he said.
“Shay Given got the goalkeeper’s position back during the group, rather surprisingly. But he has been out, he’s played very few matches, he’s probably a bit fortunate to be in the squad in many ways.
“Overall, Shay has been a great keeper. I would think that Darren Randolph will be No. 1, although there is some opinion that maybe Keiren Westwood will be.”
Kerr has also been impressed with the contribution of late from Shane Duffy.
“He’s a late runner coming into the scene,” he said.
“He had a really good season with Blackburn. He needed to get out and get away from Everton and play games.
“He came in and played in the friendlies with Martin (O'Neill). He was very good in the Switzerland match. He played well defensively and was a major threat at set pieces in other areas. He’s such a big man, he’s a real threat when we have quality delivery going in there.
“He’s done his job defensively and what I like about him too is that he seems to be quite a good organiser. He’s confident enough to be pulling other players up to make sure that they have a reasonably high line. His reading of the game, his tackling and his positions in relation to defending looks very good to me.”
Kerr said the Irish are in a difficult group but like the supporters, he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the team can do well.
“You get more hopeful as you get closer to the tournament because everyone is hoping that it’s not going to be a repeat of the situation in Poland where we were embarrassed after three defeats,” he said.