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net gain How Alisson’s FIFA ban opens the Anfield door for Irish keeper Caoimhín Kelleher to get his first start of the season

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Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ireland goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher will get an unexpected bonus from the Covid-related chaos in South America’s World Cup qualifiers, with the Cork native in line to make his first appearance this season in Liverpool’s clash with Leeds United on Sunday.

Eight players from five Premier League clubs did not travel to South America for World Cup qualifiers last week, with those clubs reluctant to release their stars for duty. Following a complaint by the Brazilian FA over the no-shows, FIFA have implemented a rule where players who do not turn up for international duty are effectively given a five-day ban from playing for their clubs.

So Liverpool will have to cope without ’keeper Alisson and compatriot Fabinho for the test with Leeds, opening the door for Kelleher to come in.

Kelleher played twice in the Premier League last season as Alisson’s deputy, along with two Champions League appearances and an FA Cup outing. With the Corkman established as the number two goalkeeper at Anfield, ahead of Adrian, he will start, barring a last-minute appeal to the FIFA decision by the Reds and the other clubs involved.

With Gavin Bazunu firmly ahead of Kelleher in the pecking order with Ireland, Premier League exposure will benefit Kelleher, with game-time also promised by Stephen Kenny in next month’s international window, where Ireland play away to Azerbaijan and at home to Qatar.

“It’s a very tight decision because I really regard Caoimhín Kelleher so highly – Caoimhín is an exceptional goalkeeper, it’s just that he hasn’t been playing. He would have started in March, but he was injured and Gavin came in and has stayed in on merit.

“Caoimhín is a real talent and Mark Travers is doing well as well at Bournemouth. There are two games coming up, Azerbaijan and Qatar next month, and Caoimhín could feature against Qatar, for example,” Kenny said this week. “They are two good prospects and it’s good to see them fulfil that and do well.”

A choice of ’keepers will be a boost for Kenny, who already has squad worries for the Baku game. Dara O’Shea will be out for at least four months with the ankle injury he sustained in Portugal last week, while Alan Browne and Jayson Molumby will miss the trip through suspension.

Kenny was forced to omit Enda Stevens, Jason Knight, Callum O’Dowda and James McCarthy from his most recent squad due to injury, but they should be fit, with Robbie Brady also in line for a return if he can secure his club future.

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