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safe hands 'He has one of the world's best players ahead of him' - Given's advice for Liverpool's Irish hopeful Kelleher


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Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s (pictured) recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Reuters

Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s (pictured) recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Reuters

Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s (pictured) recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Reuters

Stephen Kenny needs a wide-angle lens when trying to analyse the problems facing his Republic of Ireland squad.

The run of seven matches without scoring is a massive concern, but Kenny still can't ignore his first line of defence.

While his attackers are starved of goals, his goalkeepers have all been denied access to first-team football, though Darren Randolph's outing for West Ham in the first game of the New Year, and the earlier sight of Caoimhín Kelleher popping up in the Premier League and Champions League in a Liverpool shirt, was welcome. And also a sign that, for the first time in half a decade, there could be a contest for the No 1 slot with the national team.

The immediate outlook is not great and, outside of the FA Cup third round which comes around next weekend, the three 'keepers selected by Kenny to date (Kelleher, Randolph and Mark Travers) have had limited action: Randolph filled as a late replacement for the injured Lukasz Fabianski, when the Pole pulled up in his pre-match warm-up, in a New Year's Day win over Everton, his first Premier League game in almost a year.

Randolph will play again for the Hammers in Monday's FA Cup tie but is expected to resume his role as back-up to Fabianski. And unless there is a big change in circumstances at club level, the status quo will remain in place until the World Cup qualifiers roll around in March, with Randolph, Kelleher and Travers all benched, outside of the FA Cup.

Contrast

As Kenny plots a course for Qatar 2022, it's a stark contrast to the situation Mick McCarthy had at the start of the campaign for the 2002 World Cup when he had three senior 'keepers all playing regularly, two in the Premier League (Shay Given and Dean Kiely as well as Alan Kelly).

With Randolph unchallenged as Ireland's No 1 since he assumed control from Given in 2015, there is a hint that Kelleher could at least provide competition, if not actually wrestle the jersey away from the 'keeper who is first choice with Ireland but a mere back-up at club level.

Yet there's no suggestion that Randolph is going to simply surrender his position to the younger man.

"Darren is still a top 'keeper and he's in no hurry to hand over the shirt with Ireland. I don't think Darren is too worried, he's a calm character," says Shay Given, a former team-mate of Randolph with Ireland.

"When I was in the squads with him I saw he was a really good guy to have around the group, and he won't be losing sleep over someone like Caoimhín being on the horizon, he will see it as competition and that's healthy, that competition drives you on as you want to stay as No 1. The last thing you want in your career is to lose that slot.

"So he won't be worried about it, it's good for the Irish set-up that the competition is there. It's good for Kenny too that he's another one to choose from."

But Given knows all too well that it's not always in a player's gift to decide when he hands on the baton, when a 'keeper surrenders the gloves and the glory to someone else. If Given had not suffered an injury in the first half of a Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Germany, the Donegal man may have stayed in the side right through to the finals, with Randolph's access blocked. Instead, Randolph came in and Given's time as No 1 was up.

Given, now first team coach at Derby County, having been promoted from goalkeeping coach by Wayne Rooney, recalls a moment from his own past when the plan did not come to pass.

"You don't get to pick your moment, there is never a fairytale ending in sport," Given says.

"I remember when I was at Aston Villa, we played Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final (2014/'15). The papers that day were all about it being Steven Gerrard's day, his birthday was on the day of the cup final. It was a case of him getting past us, going on to the final and picking up the cup on his birthday in his last game in English football. That was the fairytale. And it didn't come true because we won. Sport can be cruel and the script goes against you."

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Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph (pictured) for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Sportsfile

Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph (pictured) for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Sportsfile

Looking out for No 1: Caomhín Kelleher’s recent spell with Liverpool gave him the chance to challenge Darren Randolph (pictured) for the Ireland No 1 shirt. Photo: Sportsfile

What happens next for Randolph and Kelleher is beyond Kenny's control: back-up 'keepers to Premier League sides, their club managers will not want the hassle of allowing them move on and the subsequent search for another No 2, hence limited game-time.

"Caoimhín has done brilliant, it's been all positive with his performances and the attention he got. But Darren has cemented his place for a number of years now and has always done brilliant for Ireland. The biggest problem they both have is that they are not playing for their clubs, that's an issue," says Given.

"In an ideal world, Caoimhín would go on loan now in January and play, because Alisson will always play once he's available. They spent €70m on him and you don't leave a €70m 'keeper on the bench. He's one of the best 'keepers in the world.

"That's maybe Caoimhín's biggest problem, he has one of the world's best players in that position ahead of him. It looks like he is No 2 there now which is some progress and you'd like to see him get some more games. They have an FA Cup match this week and you'd like him to play in that.

"But he probably needs to be playing more games to be in a position to challenge Darren with Ireland. When I was young I went out on loan, it was all about getting games and getting experience, as much experience as I could."

Before his recent spell in the Liverpool side in place of the injured Alisson, Kelleher said his plan was to perhaps go on loan in January, the Netherlands a potential destination. Then came that two-game spell in the side, a boost for the Cork native as he had leapfrogged Adrian to be No 2.

Ex-international Richard Dunne - who made his Premier League debut at 17 and was never sent out on loan - recently suggested that Kelleher would be wise to avoid a loan move and stay put, as he would be exposed to better-class football and training at Anfield instead of possibly leaking in goals for a relegation-threatened Championship side, though Given's not so sure.

"If I was advising Caoimhín I'd be suggesting he go out on loan to get games, have half a season out on loan somewhere. You don't want to be there for three or four years and not play, find yourself not playing games at the age of 25. He's 22 now and he needs to be playing," Given feels.

"I understand the logic that he's doing to stay at Liverpool and learn from Alisson, bide his time, as Dunne suggests.

"But speaking as a 'keeper who has been there, you need games, there is only so much training you can do. You will become better from working with Alisson, and training with that coaching staff.

"You train to play, not train to train, you need a game at the end of the week, you need a focus. I'm not saying he can go stale now as he's only 22 but you need game-time, you need that prep mentality, knowing you have a game on a Saturday, you need that pressure, you need that pressure on you to develop, more so with a 'keeper than any other position in my view.

"It's not great to have three 'keepers not playing but at least they are all No 2 at their clubs, they're next in line if anything happens to the guy ahead of them but it's not an ideal situation," says Given.

"I know from my time you want to be going into an Ireland camp on the back of games, on the back of a good run, not having been on the bench for a few months. You can only stay sharp if you are playing."

The door in the Premier League and Champions League opened for Kelleher, briefly, before Alisson's revival saw it close again, and Randolph got his chance with Lukasz Fabianski's injury and now they, and Travers, need to be patient. It's not ideal for the national team but in a battle between Kelleher and Randolph, Ireland will, ultimately, be the winner.

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