Kevin Kilbane believes Seamus Coleman is providing extra motivation for everyone involved in the Republic of Ireland set-up to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
After defeating Wales in Cardiff in their final qualifying group game, the Boys in Green face Denmark in a two-legged play-off for a place in next summer’s finals in Russia, starting on Saturday in Copenhagen.
Coleman, who became captain of his country in September 2016, suffered a broken leg in March and will not be available for the games as he works his way back to full fitness.
Despite being out of action, the Blues full-back has been a regular at Martin O’Neill’s side’s games in recent months.
And former Everton and Ireland midfielder Kilbane believes his country’s staff, players and supporters are desperate to make the final step to next year’s tournament, with doing it for their injured skipper an added incentive.
“Of course everyone will be motivated to qualify for the finals and I think Seamus Coleman will be in the back of everyone’s mind,” Kilbane told evertonfc.com.
“Seamus has been part of the squad in the past few games, albeit in a non-playing capacity. He was at the Moldova game, he was at the game against Wales in Cardiff and he’s played a real leader’s role off the pitch. He is certainly key to the squad.
“Him still being there while not being able to play means a lot to the squad and it tells you everything you need to know about Seamus.
“We’re all hopeful - including myself as a supporter - that we can qualify and knowing that we’ll have the boost of welcoming back Seamus Coleman. He deserves that tournament as well.”
Kilbane is disappointed Coleman’s Club teammate, James McCarthy, will also be unavailable for the double-header after sustaining a hamstring injury.
“James is someone we’ve all been watching very closely and hoping would be fit for these two games,” said Kilbane. “I think if he was fully right, he would have started the two games. I think he brings more to the side than what is there at the moment.”
The Republic of Ireland play the first leg against Denmark away from home at Telia Parken on Saturday, before welcoming the Danes to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin three days later.
Kilbane believes it’s a favourable draw, after avoiding Italy, Croatia and Switzerland, all of whom are ranked higher in FIFA’s world rankings.
“I was privileged to play in a great Irish squad with some huge personalities with real togetherness - and I think they have that again now,” he added. “From the collective point of view, they’re all pulling together and moving in the right direction, regardless of what setbacks the team has had along the way during this qualifying campaign.
“Personally, I think it is a good draw. I think it’s the best they could have had. The feeling amongst a lot of fans over in Ireland is that we’ve actually qualified - and that is always dangerous but, realistically, it is probably the best draw.
“I think it’s always important to apply a certain amount of caution, though. Denmark have got into this position as well and they’re a seeded team for a reason, with the form they’ve been in over the past few years.
“But I do feel there is a real belief and good spirit amongst the Ireland side at the moment. I believe and I am very hopeful that there will be too much within the Irish camp and I think they’ll beat Denmark over the two legs.”