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Séamus Coleman on helping Ukrainian teammate Vitaliy Mykolenko

Séamus Coleman (right) and manager Stephen Kenny arrive for a Republic of Ireland press conference at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Séamus Coleman (right) and manager Stephen Kenny arrive for a Republic of Ireland press conference at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Seamus Coleman during a Republic of Ireland press conference at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Seamus Coleman during a Republic of Ireland press conference at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Guiding the national team, in his role as captain, is a serious business for Séamus Coleman, calling for a full focus.

There are potential distractions: on Thursday night a Wales side, who are familiar foes for the Republic of Ireland, swatted away Austria to advance to the World Cup play-off final, the Welsh advance to the stage of being 90 minutes away from the World Cup finals, a case of what might have been for Coleman and his Ireland team-mates, had Ireland’s World Cup campaign shown a bit more steel.

There are issues in the camp, such as a keeper who is a rookie at international level being asked to cope with free-scoring forwards like Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi, as well as club woes for Coleman, his Everton side on a seemingly irreversible slide out of the Premier League.

But there are other matters to cope with as well, far weightier ones. Ukraine should have been in action in the World Cup on Thursday too, but their side, including Coleman’s club-mate Vitaliy Mykolenko, have no games to play, have nowhere to play home games, have no idea when they will ever take to the field as a national team again.

“Myko, he’s a fantastic lad. He’s a quiet lad, we signed him in January, he’s a really good lad. You can’t even imagine how he’s feeling,” Coleman said of Everton man Mykolenko.

“You’re there for him, you try and support him as best you can, you let him know that you’re there for him, the club are there for him but you know his family and all are back there [Ukraine] so it’s very difficult for him.

"We’re there for him. I’m sure it’s hard for him to focus and do his job but he is, he’s coming in training every day and doing what we can. He’s got the support of his teammates, any little support that we can give him.”

In a normal year, Coleman and the Irish squad would be using the two friendly games to prepare for the first competitive international of 2022, at home to Ukraine in the Nations League in June. No one knows when Ukraine’s national team will be in any sort of state, physical or mental, to play the likes of Ireland.

And Coleman admits there can be no moans from the Irish side looking for clarity on any possible date with the Ukrainians.

“That’s bigger and more important than me as an Irish footballer. Yeah, we’d like to think there would be no pressure on that nation to do anything. We’re going through a lot. Again, we’re sitting here talking about them going through a lot and, really, we don’t know how much and how troublesome their life is over there,” says Coleman.

“And for Myko in our place, how he actually feels, how he sleeps at night so I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know how it feels to be there or in their situation. I’m sure football is the last thing on their mind over there.”

Coleman says he’s enthused by the quality of goalkeepers on offer to Stephen Kenny now, though injury and illness combined to leave Caoimhín Kelleher as the only one of the three keepers in the Golden Generation to be available today. But the veteran, set to win his 64th cap today, also insists that attitude is key to an international career.

“They’ve got to stay hungry, stay humble, stay focused. The rest of the stuff that comes with being a professional footballer, it has to go to the back of your mind. The players in this squad, or any squad, if they want to be the best they can be they just have to be fully focused on just wanting to be a pro footballer at the highest level,” he says.

“There’s no doubt about it we’ve got some very good players, some really good characters. You’ve got to stay focused.

"Never for a minute think you’ve arrived because when you start to think that, it can be a slippery slope for people as well.

"I can’t predict who will be the players we’ll be talking about but we definitely have some quality in there.”


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