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first start Caoimhin Kelleher insists he does not lament missing his golden chance with Ireland

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Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher is pictured during an Ireland press conference at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher is pictured during an Ireland press conference at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher is pictured during an Ireland press conference at the FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Caoimhin Kelleher is refusing to dwell on what might have been as he prepares to make his first start for the Republic of Ireland in Tuesday night’s friendly against Qatar, seven months after missing out on his big chance.

The 22-year-old Liverpool goalkeeper was in line to win his first senior cap in a World Cup qualifier against Serbia in March, but a stomach muscle injury saw Mark Travers get the nod instead, and it was to 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu that manager Stephen Kenny turned for the home clash with Luxembourg three days later.

The teenager has been the man in possession largely ever since to leave Kelleher a frustrated bystander, although he insists he has not been left wondering what might have been.

He said: “Not really, no. I obviously back myself to do well whenever I play, but I don’t think of what ifs or if I was fit or whatever.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t spend time thinking about that. If I get capped, I know what I’m capable of.”

Kelleher could be forgiven for any impatience as his lack of senior action for Ireland – he made his debut as a substitute in a 0-0 friendly draw in Hungary in June – having already played Champions League football for his club.

However, his chances have been limited at Anfield this season. He has just one Carabao Cup appearance to his name, although Alisson Becker’s international commitments with Brazil mean he could get the nod against Watford in the Premier League on Saturday and, while Bazunu is playing his football with Portsmouth in League One on loan from Manchester City, he is playing regularly.

The pair were in under-21s squads together under Kenny and along with Bournemouth’s Travers, form a highly-competitive goalkeeping group.

Kelleher said: “Of course it’s going to be difficult. I think the first team, it’s always going to be difficult.

“Three good goalkeepers, myself, Mark and Gavin all competing for one spot is healthy competition. We all get on with each other. It’s only healthy for us and good for us.

“I like it, I like competition. It makes you better.”

Kelleher went on to insist he would not still be at Liverpool if he did not think there was a chance he could one day be number one.

The 22-year-old keeper is currently understudy to Alisson Becker at Anfield and, while he has already played Champions League football for the club, he has had limited opportunities this season to demonstrate his worth.

However as he prepares to make his first senior start for the Republic of Ireland in Tuesday night’s friendly against Qatar, his ambition remains undimmed.

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Asked if he still believed that pathway was there for him, Kelleher replied: “I think it’s certainly there. There’s no point being somewhere and not thinking you could be number one.

“You have to have that mentality and I want to push on and be number one. And hopefully if I get a chance, I’ll take it.

“I’m just trying to take it day by day at the minute, when I do get games for Liverpool, to put in good performances and show that I am capable of playing at that level, and just trying to keep consistent and keep pushing on and hopefully one day I’ll get to that level.”

In the meantime, the experience of training day to day alongside Alisson and attempting to keep the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at bay is proving invaluable.

Kelleher said: “It’s great to be in and around that and learn from. It means a lot to me and I’m so happy to be going in every day and learning from players with such a high quality.

“Some of the best players in the world are training, so it can only improve you as a player by training at that level. It has helped me a lot and I just look forward to training every day and trying to improve.”

If Kelleher is having to remain patient at club level, he is also having to do so on the international stage with 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu having taken full advantage of the muscle injury which denied the Liverpool man his debut in March to establish himself as Stephen Kenny’s number one.

Despite his desperation to play for his country, he insists he does not begrudge Bazunu his opportunity.

He said: “I don’t know what you expect me to say, but I am happy for him, I like to see him do well.

“The goalkeeping group is quite close, we don’t wish anything bad to happen. We all train collectively together to get the three points and if he makes a save, I am just as happy as any player or fan watching, I want to get the win as well.”

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