IRELAND DEFENDER SEAMUS Coleman knows better than most about the benefits of cutting your teeth in the Airtricity League.
The Killybegs native spent two years with Sligo Rovers between 2006-08 before being snapped up by Everton for £60,000.
Five years on, Coleman is currently seen as one of the finest full-backs in the Premier League and the 25-year-old has already chipped in with five goals for the Toffees this season.
Having been named in Martin O’Neill’s latest 29-man squad, Coleman is due to link up with his international team-mates later this week ahead of the friendly against Serbia on 5 March.
Two days later, the Airtricity League campaign gets underway and the former Bit O’Red star has fond memories of his time playing League of Ireland football.
“I still stay in touch with a few of the Sligo lads,” Coleman told the FAI during a recent interview. “I know a lot have been and gone now but Gavin Peers is still there and he is forever texting me asking for stuff! I stay in touch with him quite a bit.
“With Keith Fahey going back it’s only going to do well for the league. It probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves from other nations but since Kevin Doyle went over a lot of players have gone over and been quite successful in England.
For young players it’s a very good place to learn your trade,” he added.
“I came over at the age of 20 which made it easier for me as I wouldn’t have been fit to go over at the age of 15 or 16 like a lot of people do.
“It’s playing every week for points against men whereas over here you’re playing in youth academies so it definitely helped me.”
Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Coleman, who is backing Sligo to reclaim the Premier Division title having lost out to St Patrick’s Athletic in 2013, established himself as Ireland’s first choice right back last year and even captained the team in Cologne against Germany.
Yesterday, the Euro 2016 draw revealed Ireland’s Group D opponents and the Serbia game marks the beginning of a series of friendlies before the qualifying campaign kicks off against Georgia in September.
“I’m looking forward to it,” answered Coleman when asked about the upcoming international fixture.
“We’ve got the new management team and all the players will be trying to impress in every game now up until the qualifiers to get in the team for the first game.
“We haven’t had that long with them but it’s an exciting partnership and it’s good for the players. Hopefully we can be successful under the new management.”