Shaun Williams: ‘Gavin Bazunu is fully committed to being one of the best goalkeepers in the world’

Shaun Williams scores for Ireland in the Nations League game against Wales in 2018

Shaun Williams scores for Ireland in the Nations League game against Wales in 2018

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The decision by Portsmouth’s manager to take Irishman Shaun Williams out of his usual midfield role and plonk him in at centre half in recent games has proved to be a good one, as Danny Cowley’s side enjoy a six-game winning run.

It’s mixed emotions for Williams, as that defensive role is not as energy-sapping – and at 35 he does need to conserve energy – but is also more boring. “Physically, it’s a bit easier but I’d rather be playing in midfield, being involved a bit more, trying to dictate the play instead of standing and waiting around,” he says.

One bonus for Williams of being shifted to the back is that he’s even closer to his goalkeeper, fellow Dubliner Gavin Bazunu. Bazunu, still only 19, and Williams, in his 11th season of cross-channel football, are at opposite ends of their careers but the veteran can only sit back and admire the youngster.

“He’s a great fella and he has a massive career ahead of him, for a lad of 19 he has an old head on young shoulders. I can’t speak highly enough of Gav, in terms of ability and quality, it has shown through in his games for Ireland and for us,” says Williams. “He has been brought up well, has good manners, he’s not one to be arrogant, he is fully committed to being one of the best goalkeepers in the world. As long as he keeps working hard and keeps the right mentality, he can do that.

“I don’t see any reason why he can’t go all the way, he’s performing at a superb level now and he’s only 19. I can’t think of another keeper in football who is doing that. He’s a good person first and also a good footballer.”

International greatness awaits Bazunu while Williams also has no doubts that fellow Pompey player, the uncapped Marcus Harness, could also play on that stage. His own Ireland career was over in a flash (three caps and one goal in five months in 2018).

“It happened late for me but I’m grateful it happened at all. Not many people have the opportunity to play for their country, let alone score. To get one cap was a dream come true and to get three, and a goal, was something I’ll never forget. I am thoroughly proud of that,” he says.

“If I’d only had one cap, I’d have been happy. I’d always have been proud of that but to score for my country is something no one can take away from me.”

Williams admires the work ethic and dedication shown by Bazunu and wonders how his own career would have turned out if he’d had the same attitude as a youth, playing little football in a three-year spell at Drogheda United under Paul Doolin before a move to Sporting Fingal gave him a stage.

“I wouldn’t say I was a model pro. I was in football but I hadn’t been playing so I was inclined to not look after myself the best, not eating well and maybe drinking, I didn’t take it as seriously as I could have,” says Williams of his early years.

He’s proud to be one of a handful of that Sporting Fingal side still active in the game, with league medals last season for former teammates Brendan Clarke (Shelbourne) and Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers), while he says the sight of Wes Hoolahan still playing, in the same league Williams is in now, at 39 is “an inspiration”.

Medals have eluded Williams in his time in England but the FA Cup has offered some real joy, something that’s in his mind this weekend as Pompey take on Harrogate Town.

“Some of the experiences I had with Millwall in the cup were great. We were a penalty kick away from making the semi-final one year, we had some good runs, two quarter-finals,” he says.

“I love the fact that the FA Cup is open to everyone. In the last round we had a non-league team and they gave us a real game. We have a League Two team, Harrogate, this weekend and they’ll be another challenge.

“The year we beat Leicester, they were Premier League champions at the time, in the same run we beat Watford and Bournemouth, who were both in the Premier League, the next one we beat Everton and only lost to Brighton on penalties. We got as far as Spurs at White Hart Lane and though we lost 6-0, we were clapped off by our own fans.

“The first good cup run we had with Millwall spurred us on to get promoted, your cup form and momentum can feed into the league. And that’s our main aim, if I’m honest I’d swap a cup run for promotion. This club is a sleeping giant.”

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