Football/Soccer

Under-fire Shane Duffy has enough credit in the bank for his country: Seamus Coleman

Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman is likely to be recalled to the starting line-up against Serbia

FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying Group A: Serbia v Republic of Ireland (tonight, Rajko Mitic Stadium, Belgrade, 7.45pm)

SEAMUS Coleman has leapt to the defence of under-fire Celtic defender Shane Duffy and has nailed reports that suggested he was deeply upset at being dropped by manager Stephen Kenny at start of the season.

Speaking to reporters via zoom from Belgrade ahead of tonight’s clash with Serbia, the 32-year-old Republic of Ireland captain says he doesn’t view the 2022 World Cup finals as his last chance to play at a major tournament.

Coleman appeared at Kenny’s first pre-match press conference against Bulgaria in Sofia last September even though he knew Matt Doherty had been picked ahead of him.

Subsequent newspaper reports said Coleman felt humiliated by having to do a press conference.

Yesterday, Coleman put the record straight.

“There is no ego with me,” the Donegal man said.

“I read something about me being disappointed with being asked to go to a press conference. The manager left me out of his first game, had the decency to call me to his room and explain the situation which I was fine with because Matt was playing very well at the time.

“My duty as captain, my duty to the rest of the players, is to be positive around the place whether I play or I don’t play. And I went to that press conference with absolutely no issues whatsoever.

“It was actually very disappointing to read something like that about myself when I’ve got a character in the game that plenty of managers would back.”

Coleman hasn’t played for his country since being sent off against Switzerland in a European Championship Qualifier in Switzerland in November 2019 – and doesn’t know whether he’ll make a return to Ireland’s starting XI in Belgrade tonight.

The Everton man’s current form would, though, suggest he will get the nod ahead of Matt Doherty who’s been in erratic form for Tottenham Hotspur this season, although Kenny did reveal both players will play together at some point over the next three games against Serbia, Luxembourg and Qatar (friendly).

“I don't want to get too deep into thinking about how much I've not played because you could go out there like a headless chicken, so passionate having not played in so long,” said the Killybegs native.

"I've missed the last eight to 10 games. I don't know how many I've missed, I've missed quite a few unfortunately and it's one of the proudest feelings I have is representing my country.

"So I can't wait to get back out there and would I be making up for lost time? I'd just be helping the group, really, to try and achieve that dream, that goal of a World Cup."

Coleman is likely to assume the right back spot alongside Ciaran Clark, Enda Stevens and Shane Duffy in defence.

Duffy has endured a fierce amount of criticism since moving to Celtic on loan from Brighton – but Coleman feels there are plausible reasons for his dip in form.

"Shane Duffy is a leader,” said Coleman.

"I don't think Shane Duffy is the reason why things aren't going the way they wanted up there [at Celtic], there's a lot of other reasons I’m sure.

"And listen, I don't know if he'll mind me saying this or not, but Shane Duffy's dad passed away last summer and not long after his dad died he was straight back on a plane to Celtic. They're the little things that I don't think people take into account.

"I don't know if he had the opportunity to mourn his dad properly… He doesn't sulk, he's a great character around the place, he's a warrior and I think he has enough credit in the bank for his country.”

On the possibility of this being his last crack at playing at another major finals, Coleman said: "It would be great to have it on the CV. Do I need it on the CV? Absolutely not. Do I want it? Yeah, I would like it.

"I want to make sure that, as captain, I'm doing all I can for the boys and we're doing all we can on a daily basis to make sure we get there."

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Football/Soccer