Regardless of where you stand on the issue of Seamus Coleman as a footballer, one thing is for certain - he is a born gentleman.
After the full-time whistle following the 22-year-old’s senior international debut in the 3-0 win over Wales on Tuesday, the hacks descended the five floors to the media zone, or, as it would might be more aptly termed, the Twilight Zone.
Situated in the carcass of the Aviva Stadium, little groups of journalists converged with varying degrees of urgency as a result of their differing deadlines. Some frantically stared at their watches, while others leisurely dissected the game they had just witnessed.
The room itself is tall inside and grey, unused for the most part, and is the sort of place you would expect to find a chugging tumble dryer. There is a barricade creating a walkway from the rear door of the dressing rooms for the players to navigate their way to the relative sanctuary of the exit, as the journalists lean over for a bite of flesh. Whether or not the players, whom are accompanied by bulky body guards as the dressing room door swings open, stop and talk is entirely their own decision.
Darron Gibson, who excellently executed the game’s opening goal although was patchy otherwise, briskly walked through first of all and resisted the optimistic requests by going as far as to avoid even eye contact. A collective groan ensued and the less pleasing aspects of his performance murmured from those little pockets of journalists.
Andy Keogh followed, but his contribution was deemed inconsequential and he wandered unwanted. Richard Dunne was third, a veteran of such occasions by now, stopping and sharing his laid-back opinions on the first outing of the New Year, while leaning against the wall wearing a pair of jeans and a grey sweatshirt.
Coleman had played an hour and was solid and safe throughout after being unwittingly shrouded in ignominy following manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s unwillingness to introduce him in November’s friendly loss at Norway’s hands. That night he kept his thoughts to himself, wondering what might have been.
Unlike the disappointment of that dead-rubber clash, though, this time there was a smile, not stretched but bristling to begin with. Immediately after he appeared there were handshakes and pats on the back from some who knew him and many who didn’t. Then, the flurry of dictaphones rained around his head like a tilted umbrella. In reverse to the Old Testament, Genesis had to come after Exodus - there was no exit this time, more of a beginning.
“All my family and friends were down from Donegal so they are going home a little happier this time,” Coleman said, in reference to his last visit to Dublin when there was fury directed from the red-tops at Trapattoni the following morning after the refusal to acknowledge the Everton midfielder.
“I can’t help it if people want to go and write about me. I’m just a footballer at the end of the day. “It was a dream come true for me to be given my first cap. It was great. I’m really just delighted to be in the squad as a couple of years ago I wasn’t expecting it and it’s great to go out and get a chance under a manager of Trapattoni’s calibre. I’m delighted with how it went. As a footballer you always want to play and I was just delighted to get 60 minutes and get the cap tonight. “Trapattoni just congratulated us on a good convincing win and congratulated me on my debut. Playing for your country is what every player wants to do and I’m no different. It’s what I always wanted. The more caps the merrier. Hopefully I can get more now.”
For now, Coleman will return to Goodison Park and continue to make the waves that sent the jury home early in agreement on the debate regarding the player’s exciting abilities. In the space of five years, he has trampolined from a junior player in the Donegal League with St Catherine’s and onto Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland, before the cross-channel move to Everton in the Premier League. On Tuesday another considerable step was made, much to delight of the Killybegs contingent of family, friends and girlfriend, who had scurried their way up the vertigo-inducing steps of the West Upper shortly before kick-off.
‘Coleman: the international footballer’ has a nice ring to it and the next challenge will be to build on that, possibly as early as next month when Ireland welcome Macedonia in a critical European Championship qualifier.
“I am going to go back to Everton and will work hard and hopefully my club form there will help me ahead of the next international,” he continued. “If I do well with them then hopefully it will be recognised with more international caps. I would like to think I will be included in the squad next month.
“Tonight, I didn’t feel out of my comfort zone really. The tempo is a bit different, but it wasn’t too different from league football to be honest. It’s similar to Premier League football and we knew all about their players. I had a bit of nerves beforehand but it’s always good to have small nerves. You don’t want anything more than that. I was fine and really enjoyed it.”
Like Coleman, the likes of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long stopped and talked. Perhaps their grounded attitudes come through the direction their football careers have taken. Hard work and willingness to learn saw them become competent players in the domestic league to international footballers. There is a refreshing unassuming quality about them, just like the boy next door.
The nature of the media zone means there is a lot of feet-shuffling. Reporters, who have their fill from one player, or the player their fill of the reporter, quickly move onto another. And although Coleman discussed some familiar topics - Everton, Blackpool, Phil Neville, Sligo Rovers and Ireland - he returned without so much as a frown to instances previously covered for the benefit of those who might have initially missed them.
After 20 minutes or so - a time-frame certainly over the national average from players in the media zone - he gradually made his way to the exit door as the team bus filled up outside it. At one stage, he gently stated: “Please folks I have head on - my family are waiting for me outside.”
An optimistic youngster of perhaps 14 years of age with a recorder in hand, begged for his brief return. Coleman obliged the boy, who was presumably a competition winner or someone important’s son, with a few words, an autograph and a beaming smile.
That smile, in otherwise bleak surroundings, lit up the room. Hopefully there’s more to come from where that came from.