THE tinsel and trees may soon be taken down in homes across Merseyside, but for Seamus Coleman every day of the year feels like Christmas.

The Everton defender who signed a new five-and-a-half year contract yesterday is living his dream, and thanks to his unconventional route to the top he insists he’ll never forget it.

While other Premier League players were being groomed and fine-tuned into mini professionals at the age of 18, Coleman was still getting knocked from pillar to post on the Gaelic football field for his local team Na Cealla Beaga.

So the 24-year-old makes no apologies for retaining the boyish enthusiasm for the career he enjoys on Merseyside.

Although he may still be learning, and there are times his raw edges and late-start in the game remain apparent, the talented right-back wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Obviously I missed out on a lot of the things which academy players in the county get but maybe it was good for me in a way,” says the Donegal-born player who opted to focus mainly on football when he joined Sligo Rovers in 2006.

“You see young lads playing in the Premier League now at the age of 17 or 18 and I was playing Gaelic football at that age. It’s crazy. I look at them doing so well and it’s mad thinking about me playing a different sport on a Saturday afternoon back then.

“Because being at a top club is all some academy kids have ever known perhaps they do take it for granted in some cases. I’m not criticising them. I understand that because it’s all they’ve ever known but it’s one thing you’ll never see me doing.

“I’m very grateful for what I have. I never drive through those gates (at Finch Farm) thinking training is a chore.

“I always remember I’m at Everton Football Club. I’m in the Premier League and I’ll never take it for granted. I’m sure people will read this and think ‘Oh here he goes saying this again’ but it’s the truth.

“I’m privileged to be where I am and I know that.”

Coleman, who hopes to be fit to return to action in time for Everton’s FA Cup third round tie at Cheltenham, also aims to emulate the longevity of one of the club’s other right-backs – Phil Neville.

“I’d love to emulate Phil. I know I’ve got to keep improving but I’d love to stay here as long as possible and he’s a great example to be 35, nearly 36 is great,” he says. “I’d love to be fit enough to do that as well. He’s been great with me and helped me a lot.

“He keeps us on our toes as a captain and I’ve picked up things from him; little stories or how to adapt to certain games or certain opposition players. He’ll give me practical advice and I’ve been lucky that way.

“Having players like Phil Neville, Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines around me has helped tremendously. You couldn’t not learn from guys like that. They’re great role models.”

Coleman admits he now feels secure at Everton after penning his new deal, but it wasn’t always that way after he arrived with plenty to prove in 2009.

“When I first signed it was a two-year contract I think and I just looked at it as more of a long-term trial. I was here to try and prove myself and that I was good enough to take the massive step from the League of Ireland to the Premier League here,” he says.

“It was difficult making the transition but I just went out and tried to play my game and thankfully had a good year of it. It was something I’d always dreamed about so I just tried to grab it with both hands.

“Last year I had some injuries and a dip in form but I kept working hard, which is one of my attributes. Thankfully I got a run in the side in my favourite position this season and I enjoyed it. I think if you work hard enough anything is possible. Some lads are born with loads of natural ability and maybe I wasn’t one of them but I’ve worked hard growing up and luckily I’ve got where I wanted to be.

“If you want it bad enough and there is some ability there it can happen for you.

“Since I’ve done it James McLean has come over as well so it proves it can be done.”

He might have come a long way since those early days at Sligo’s Showgrounds stadium, but for Coleman there are still similarities between his former and current club.

“I love Everton because this is a family club in a similar way to Sligo,” he says.

“There certainly weren’t as many staff at Sligo but they were brilliant and here it’s the same.

“A lot of my friends back home are United fans but when I play they’re Everton fans.

“It’s great and when I go back to where I’m from and I see a kid in a Coleman jersey it’s still mad.”