Liverpool's Caoimhin Kelleher must ask himself... should I stay or should I go?

So long as Allison stays fit, the Premier League and European shirt will be tailored to his dimensions, and Kelleher must settle for the offcuts
Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher celebrates with the League Cup trophy after scoring the winning penalty

Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher celebrates with the League Cup trophy after scoring the winning penalty

Roy Curtis

CAOIMHIN Kelleher is the unflappable kind an airline would favour in the cockpit if one of their passenger jets suffered engine failure 35,000 feet above the Atlantic.

As the Corkman made matchwood of concerns about his Carabao Cup Final selection, it was his immutable calm in the most demanding circumstances that dazzled.

Kelleher, even as the searchlight examining his credentials was ratcheted up to maximum wattage, could hardly have appeared any more at ease had he been stretched out on a Caribbean hammock with a rum cocktail by his side.

His refrigerated demeanour during and in the immediate aftermath of a penalty shoot-out in which he emerged as the headline act was that of a man bathing in some cognitive sea of tranquillity.

From a veteran old soldier it would have been eye-catching, but for a 23-year-old cub goalkeeper thrust into a volatile Wembley powder-keg it represented a monumental triumph of serenity.

Little wonder then that at the final whistle Jurgen Klopp should rush to embrace the Irishman who had so lavishly rewarded his manager’s extraordinary investment of trust.

As impressive as the penalty dispatched with the cold precision of a striker, was his reaction to scoring.

All the bottled up stress that comes with such responsibility means players tend to emote wildly after the ball finds the net, a kind of involuntary volcano eruption of the psyche.

Kelleher, understanding he still had a Chelsea penalty to face, somehow maintained the poker face of a Vegas cardsharp.

Moments later, as Wembley palpitated under the thunderbolt force of Liverpool’s moment of deliverance, the Ringmahon Rangers graduate was nabbed for an interview.

Had there been a heart monitor attached to his chest, the reading might have suggested the batteries had expired.

The hero of the hour took the commotion in his giant stride, oozing the conviction of a man born for such a stage.

That uncommon ability to disconnect his mind from the high emotional voltage of the moment will be a priceless asset to Kelleher as he ponders his professional future.

He has a decision to make that will be infinitely more far-reaching than the choice of whether to dive to his left or right the next time he faces a penalty.

It is the one that asks: Should I stay or should I go.

Kelleher is required to make an icy analysis of whether he must shortly agitate for time away from Anfield, either for a loan period or in a permanent move.

If that sounds like a heartless proposition in the wake of the weekend’s warming drama, it might be the only logical course if Caoimhin is to maintain his Wembley momentum and build an international career.

It would, of course, mean a significant downgrade in status from life in the heady environment offered by one of English football’s thriving superpowers.

The upsides to life at Anfield are self-evident: Kelleher clocks in every day to an elite culture; he works alongside some of the planet’s most celebrated stars, learns from and competes with perhaps the finest goalkeeper on earth; the crown jewel of a Champions League medal is among his battle ribbons.

And the highlight film of his career is illuminated by days like Sunday, the kind of timeless snapshot few Irish contemporaries will ever come close to savouring.

But if Sunday was an illustration of Kelleher’s potential, it was also a reminder of a cruel reality that it will remain largely untapped at Anfield.

He has made 17 first team appearances since his debut in September 2019. That equates to a game every 52 days.

The all too brief reach of a professional career in team sport means a prolonged period in the shadows – even at such an august institution as Liverpool Football Club – eventually equates to wasted opportunity, time that can never be recovered.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp congratulates goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp congratulates goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher

Kelleher turns 24 in November and Shay Given is among those who believe he should not regard an Anfield contract that stretches all the way to 2026 as a comfort blanket.

“If it was me, I’d be knocking down Klopp’s door,” Given told Premier Sports last month, “I’d be saying that I need to go out on loan, to go and play…I’d be on to my agent and manager to get me playing games.”

Klopp, a man who draws from an unusually deep well of empathy and emotional intelligence, exhibited huge faith in Kelleher by naming him ahead of Allison Becker with a first domestic cup trophy in ten years on the line.

Had it backfired, the German might have been ridiculed for holding his Brazilian master in reserve.

Klopp selected Kelleher not on some romantic whim, but, as he said afterwards because he rates him as the “best number two [keeper] in the world.”

The devil is in the detail. While showering confetti on Kelleher, Klopp was restating a pecking order in which the Leesider is second choice in a position where only one man plays.

Allison is 29, at the peak of his powers, potentially Liverpool’s untouchable fortification well into the next decade.

Rather than days like Sunday coming in a torrent, there will always be only a scattered drip, drip of big games for his understudy.

So long as Allison stays fit, the Premier League and European shirt will be tailored to his dimensions, and Kelleher must settle for the offcuts.

Because of Liverpool’s huge standing, the Irishman will enjoy scattered moments of unforgettable achievement to set alongside Sunday’s moment as the travelling Kop’s North Star.

But when the Wembley dazzle recedes, it will be replaced by a more prosaic truth: Kelleher, entering his mid-20s, is second choice for both club and country.

His Irish rival Gavin Bazunu seized the international shirt by trading life as a Manchester City reserve for a run of games in the lower divisions.

The Dubliner is almost four years younger than Kelleher, yet his 39 appearances for club and country this season alone dwarfs the Corkman's career tally of first team opportunities.

There was no failure of nerve when an opportunity to carry Liverpool to the stars presented itself to Kelleher last Sunday.

He may be required to deploy the same icy conviction in his next conversation with Klopp.

A loan move is the next logical step in Kelleher's development.

The alternative is the likelihood of a chunk of his best years being largely lost to the shadowlands, and a future wondering what might have been.

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