IT WAS predictable that Steven Naismith would talk extensively about a team-mate from Everton as he looked forward to his Scotland side’s hosting of the Republic of Ireland in their Euro 2016 qualifier at Celtic Park tomorrow evening. What proved unexpected was that the Toffee in question should prove to be Seamus Coleman.
Coleman is one member of the Goodison Park squad who is set to take part in the Group D encounter about whom very little has been said. Midfielder Darron Gibson is also in that boat, with the oceans of coverage given to the rights and wrongs of the booing that will be copped by Scots Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy – if fit – appearing to drown all other matters.
Naismith is too much of a professional, and too in awe of the professionalism of Coleman, to become too hung up on what the crowd reaction might be to a couple of Scotland born and bred Irish internationals. Indeed, he seemed to relish the opportunity to be able to wax lyrical about a player with whom he shares the Everton dressing room who doesn’t hail from within these borders when asked for his assessment of the 26-year-old defender by Irish journalists who attended the latest in an admirably lengthy list of charity press events to which he has given his time.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“For me, he [Coleman] is the best right back in Europe. When I first came to Everton [two and a half years ago] he was a player who would get nervous and he would just go into a game and play off the cuff. He probably thinks about his game a bit more now and the way the manager [Roberto Martinez] has him playing he’s a goal threat. He’s probably the most down to earth guy I’ve ever met in football and it’s great to see how he’s just going to be a superstar.
“Nothing fazes him. He just goes about his business. He does everything exactly the same as when he was back in Sligo. That’s a fantastic quality to have. He gets everything he deserves because he is such a fantastic player and is so humble and works very hard to get where he is.”
Humility is a word that could certainly be attached to Naismith. He was speaking yesterday at the Glasgow headquarters of the construction company City Building, where he was presenting an award for their work with Glasgow Housing Association, Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft industries and Glasgow’s Helping Heroes in assisting injured members of the armed forces reassimilate into civilian life. Yet, the attacker also has an edge on the field, and that is why he thinks the talk has been massively overplayed about what a hostile crowd might do to opposition players who could have been wearing dark blue. As a former Rangers and Kilmarnock player, tomorrow will provide Naismith with his first experience of Celtic Park where the vast majority crowd will be on his side. He remembers the atmosphere of playing in Glasgow derbies there, but, far from finding it intimidating to have 50,000-plus punters braying at him, he “enjoyed the buzz of trying to silence them”.
Not that Naismith believes that the paying punters are central to the outcome against Martin O’Neill’s side as they have been presented, with their potential actions on the night having dominated the pre-match chatter. The Everton forward is contemptuous of the suggestion from FAI chief executive John Delaney that there will be “tension in the air” as the result of the SFA giving the Irish only five per cent of the 60,000 capacity, which, in turn, led many visiting supporters to buy up tickets for home sections of Celtic Park.
“The Tartan Army are fantastic. They come, they support us, they make such a noise and when they turn up on Friday their main concern will be, ‘Let’s back the team. Let’s get a win and let’s keep this fantastic run going’. They’ll not be thinking about tickets or anything else,” said Naismith. “This is just build-up, trying to make something out of nothing, really. It won’t be a big issue. The fans that are going are just buzzing that they’ve got a ticket for the game.”
Yet, Naismith did acknowledge that the Ireland encounter has a different feel to it because there will be interspersal on the field, as well as off it. “The amount of players who have played with each other from both sides is incredible. That probably turns it more into a club-like game,” he said. Yet, he is convinced the familiarity of the combatants won’t engender a derby-like frenzy that will be to the detriment of the continental-style passing game that Gordon Strachan has instilled during his tenure.
“We’ve got the ability of controlling games,” he said. “Poland put us under a lot of pressure and we dealt with that very well. I don’t really see it as a derby type game, it’s just the next big game in the group. Germany was a massive game because it was the first game in the group away to the world champions. After that, it was Georgia at home with everyone saying ‘we’re at home and we must win it’. But the group is that tight, there’s going to be twists and turns all along the way.
“Ireland got a great result against Georgia away with a last-minute goal, so that shows how tough it’ll be. Then people have talked about Ireland playing well and [with a last minute draw in Germany] being three points ahead of us, but they’ve [also] played the minnows of the group in Gibraltar, which is a game you expect to win. We’ve not played them yet so there are so many variations in the table. You just need to look at every game as it comes. Win your home games and get something from your away games you won’t be far away.” That, though, is surely easier said than done.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS