Seamus Coleman capped a marvellous 2013 with a stunning goal against Southampton in Everton’s 2-1 Premier League win on Sunday.
The 25-year-old grabbed his fifth league goal of the season meaning he’s now the highest scoring defender in Europe and his year was capped when his girlfriend of nine years, Rachel Cunningham, who is also from Killybegs, accepted his marriage proposal that same evening.
Everton are fifth in the Premier League table following their 1-1 draw at Stoke City on New Year’s Day.
Coleman was on the peripheries of the Everton team 12 months ago but following an excellent showing in the 2-0 home win over then reigning champions Manchester City on St Patrick’s weekend, has cemented his place.
The former St Catherine’s and Sligo Rovers right-back completed last season in fine fashion under David Moyes and has continued to progress with Roberto Martinez in charge of Everton.
Last week, Coleman made both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher’s respective teams of the season so far on Sky Sports.
Internationally, having been left out of the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, Coleman is now first choice right-back for the new management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and had the honour of captaining the country against Germany in October’s World Cup qualifier in Cologne.
Coleman rounded off a calendar year with Everton’s opening goal against Southampton.
“My word,” tweeted Michael Owen, the 2001 European Footballer of the Year, who currently works as an analyst for BT Sport. “What a goal from Seamus Coleman. He is developing into one hell of a player.”
One man closer to home keeping an eye on Coleman’s progression is Michael Murphy. The Donegal captain would’ve played against Coleman and Killybegs for Glenswilly at underage level when both were involved in the Donegal county development squads.
“Seamie would’ve been a year ahead of me but you’d always have been keeping an eye on the group directly above you or the group below,” Murphy says. “He was always a prominent player. One day we, Glenswilly, came up against Killybegs in Dunkineely at U-15B league semi-final. It will always stick in my head. He was centre-back and I was centre-forward and it wasn’t the most pleasant 60 minutes I ever had.
“It was at a time before centre-backs would be so forward-thinking but he had me on the back foot the whole time. We got hammered as Killybegs were very strong at that time. I was thinking the whole time that I was the forward here and he was the defender. There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve made it with Donegal and would’ve been a star of Gaelic football.”
Coleman joined Sligo Rovers from Killybegs in 2006, the year Donegal won the Ulster Minor Championship and lost out to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final with future All-Ireland winners Murphy, Leo McLoone, Martin McElhinney and Declan Walsh.
“Seamie had just committed to soccer that year,” Murphy recalls. “There’s no doubt Seamie would’ve been with us but the rest is history. He played Gaelic football just as he plays soccer with that marauding style. He was the modern day centre-back who was tough and can defend but can get up the field.
“You can see that with Everton. He started off as a winger and has since made the right-back spot his own. Everton have brought in the new, modern style where the full-backs get forward and really put the opposition on the back foot. He’s very creative.
“If you draw a chart of Seamie’s career, with all he’s done from St Catherine’s to Sligo and Blackpool on loan to Everton and with Ireland, it’s just a steady upward curve with very few dips. That’s a testament to his mentality and he wants to continually improve. He’s a fantastic player but the continued progress is, for me, down to mentality. He never fell into the comfort zone and still wants to continue to improve.”
Like Coleman, Murphy had the honour of skippering his country in October when Ireland defeated Australia in the International Rules Series. The pair keep in regular contact and bumped into one another by chance in May at Portmarnock in Dublin.
The previous Sunday, Murphy had helped Donegal get their defence of the Ulster championship off to a winning start in a 2-10 to 0-10 win over Tyrone in Ballybofey and the night before their chance meeting, Coleman had been named man of the match having created Shane Long’s goal in Ireland’s 1-1 draw in an international friendly against England at Wembley.
“Myself and Michael Boyle, the Donegal goalkeeper, were up finishing up some college work,” continues Murphy, who has since completed a degree in Biology and Physical Education at Dublin City University. “It was the week after we played Tyrone and we had trained the night before with Donegal.
“We decided just to go down for a dip in the water and as we were leaving in the car afterwards, we passed Seamie along with James McCarthy and Damien Delaney, as they were walking down. We just stopped the car and said ‘fair play to ya last night.’ We didn’t want to be torturing them but he insisted we pull in and we ended up having a great chat.
“He’s a very quiet lad and one who is so fond of home and we see him after some of the Donegal matches. That day in Portmarnock, we were mad to hear what was the craic was with the Ireland squad, the Premier League and what it was like to play at Wembley but Seamie was just bringing it back to Donegal and how things were with us. He’s an absolute credit and an inspiration to everyone in the county.
“With all the changes around him, he’s still the same person. He’s so driven to succeed and yet is so humble and that’s what I love about him.”.