It was the stuff of dreams. Playing for your country at a major tournament is one thing, but being handed the captain’s armband ahead of a must-win group game against the mighty Italians, was something special.
And if ever anyone wondered just what it meant to Seamus Coleman to captain the Republic in their must-win final group game at the Euros, he summed it up himself perfectly:
“It was an amazing feeling. To captain your country at any level, in a friendly, whatever the case may be, it’s a special honour. But to do it in such a big big game that we needed to win was an incredible feeling that will stay with me a very long time.”
Ireland’s tournament would end with defeat against the host nation. Overall however, France 2016 will be remembered for all the right reasons as far as Ireland and Coleman are concerned.
Supporters gathered in big numbers in Killybegs when Coleman arrived home in the days after Ireland’s elimination. St. Catherine’s and Killybegs GAA club came together to organise the homecoming celebrations and the player himself appreciated all the effort that was put in to make it such a special night.
“Both clubs have had a massive impact on my career,” Coleman said.
“I couldn’t have asked for two better clubs to bring me through.
“I haven’t changed my morals from what I learned then. That’s where you learn it, at grassroots. I took that on and that’s helped me be the player I am today.”
He added: “It’s been incredible to be over there (in France) fighting for my country. I’m so glad to have played a part in making Killybegs proud.
“To see people from my own town turning out like this. It’s hard to put into words what it means.”
Plans for the homecoming celebrations swung into action not long after the final whistle in the France on the Sunday afternoon in Lyon. The Irish team returned to Dublin the following afternoon and Coleman was afforded a special homecoming celebration that night, along with his wife Rachel and their baby daughter Lilly.
“The people of Killybegs are unbelievable,” the player said.
“Wherever I go, whatever I do, Killybegs people are on my mind.
“You are always trying to make them proud and when you come back home it’s always nice to meet them.
“Tonight was a special night, you went from massive disappointment yesterday to really enjoying tonight.”
Coleman had captained Ireland before - against Germany in a World Cup Qualifier in 2014. However, the way he embraced the role of captain at the Euro Finals in France prompted many to predict that Coleman would be given the role on a permanent basis.
That’s exactly what happened. Ireland opened their 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign away to Serbia in September. And despite regular captain, John O’Shea’s inclusion in defence, Coleman was handed the captain’s armband as Martin O’Neill’s side battled to a 2-2 draw in Belgrade.
Not everyone, however, was happy. RTE pundit, Eamonn Dunphy came in for scathing criticism on social media after he questioned the decision to make Coleman captain.
In an interview with the Donegal Democrat, Dunphy moved to defend his comments.
He said Coleman hasn’t been in good form for club and country since last year because of various injuries, and giving him the captain’s role at the time might not necessarily be the right thing.
“What happened was that Didi (Hamann), Liam (Brady) and myself were discussing the Euros and I said I thought he (Coleman) didn’t have a good European Championships by his standards,” Dunphy said.
“I thought he had looked a bit inhibited. We were wondering about the captaincy and I was asked if I thought the captain’s role suited him with Ireland.” He added: “Seamus Coleman is a great player, a conscientious player. I love him, but sometimes being captain doesn’t suit every player.”
Fast forward to December and Ireland are sitting pretty at the top of Group D. They followed up their draw in Serbia with wins at home to Georgia (with Coleman scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory), and away to Moldova and Austria.
In the meantime, Coleman’s priorities rest at club level where Everton are in the middle of a busy Christmas schedule.
Going into their trip to Leicester City in the Premier Division on St. Stephen’s Day, the Toffees had slipped down to ninth in the table - their latest defeat coming as Liverpool sneaked a dramatic derby win at Goodison Park.
Coleman, who captained Everton for the first time against Norwich City in the EFL Cup earlier this season, is playing consistently well at right back for Ronald Koeman’s side, despite their indifferent run of form.
There has been more speculation linking the 28-year-old with a move away from Goodison Park, with more reports suggesting Man United boss Jose Mourinho might make a move for the right back in the January transfer window.
There could well be more exciting times ahead.