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EXCLUSIVE Stephen Kenny can count on cool keeper Caomhín Kelleher for World Cup qualifier in Serbia

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Caoimhin Kelleher, if fit, could start for the Republic of Ireland for their World Cup qualifier in Serbia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Caoimhin Kelleher, if fit, could start for the Republic of Ireland for their World Cup qualifier in Serbia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeepers Darren Randolph, right, and Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeepers Darren Randolph, right, and Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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Caoimhin Kelleher, if fit, could start for the Republic of Ireland for their World Cup qualifier in Serbia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

WHEN you play in defence, as I did for my career, you can sometimes be a bit worried when you look over your shoulder and see a goalkeeper who is low on confidence or struggling for form.

When your keeper lacks confidence, you can sense it. You see him making bad decisions, coming out when he should stay back, and that can infect a sense of unease into the whole team. You think to yourself, when you look at your keeper sometimes, he’s not at it today so we’re in big trouble

So Stephen Kenny has an issue to grapple with for the first World Cup qualifier in Serbia next week. And while it’s a big leap for Caoimhín Kelleher to make, to come in for his competitive debut in an away qualifier in Belgrade, having not played much club football and also having been out injured, I’d be confident in him doing the job.

Kelleher has shown he has a good temperament, he has played in big games for Liverpool and never let them down.

Yes, in an ideal world he would be making his competitive international debut when he’s fully fit and has a run of club games behind him, but it doesn’t always work like that.

Shay Given and Dean Kiely have been given competitive debuts with Ireland when they maybe didn’t expect it – and they delivered.

Goalkeepers have a mentality that lets them deal with these scenarios. Goalkeeping is a solitary position, so when you’re a keeper you look after yourself first and foremost. A central defender can’t do that. It’s a mindset keepers have – and once they see an opportunity, their mental training makes sure they are ready for it.

I liked the way Kelleher came from nowhere, really, to take over from Adrian as No. 2 at Liverpool. He is training in a high-level environment every day and he will be mentally prepared. He will have that focus you need to be at a club like Liverpool.

Anyone who can get themselves through the various stages at Liverpool, to cross those hurdles and get into the first team where Jurgen Klopp is happy to pick you, you need a strong mentality and a self-confidence.

Yes, it could go badly and Serbia are 3-0 up early on, but that could happen with any keeper. And even in those circumstances I can’t see Kelleher crumbling.

There’s no suggestion that this would be so big for him that a bad day in Belgrade could finish his international career before it starts. You need a resilience to survive and do well at a club like Liverpool – and he clearly has that, he wouldn’t be in their team otherwise.

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Goalkeepers Darren Randolph, right, and Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeepers Darren Randolph, right, and Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Goalkeepers Darren Randolph, right, and Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

If he’s fit and he’s picked – and it looks like Kelleher will be first choice if he’s fit to play – I think he’ll be excited, not worried, about Serbia away, and he won’t use that injury as an excuse.

It’s not the ideal situation for Kenny, to have so many question marks over the goalkeepers as Randolph is injured, Kelleher has been out with an injury and Mark Travers hasn’t been playing at club level.

Darren has been so solid for the last few years. He is calm as a person and that calmness shows in his game, so it’s an issue for Kenny to cope without Darren.

Kelleher will be used to the Liverpool way, playing the ball out from the back and taking a chance or two.

Whereas Darren would be more secure in his approach, his first thought would be – if there is a danger there, get rid of the ball.

But I hope Kelleher is fit and plays, it would be great for Ireland to see a Liverpool player in goal.

Kenny also needs to replace John Egan at centre-back and that should see Ciaran Clark come in, for what would be his first Ireland game in 18 months.

I’ve know Ciaran for a long time, he was starting out at Aston Villa when I was there. He was actually playing in central midfield at Villa early on, he was really comfortable in that No 6 role. He’d take the ball with his back to the play and work it forward, he was good on the ball.

He’s left-footed so he should bring a bit of balance to the side as well. One issue with him is that at times he’s over-eager to win the ball, sometimes he needs to step back.

I know the Irish fans haven’t really got to know him as a character, and he’s been off the Ireland scene for a while now, but I know he’s a leader, he speaks well. When he was breaking into the Villa side I asked him if he wanted to play for Ireland and that set the wheels in motion in terms of getting his passport. I know how excited he was to get that Ireland career.

His Ireland career has been a bit stop-start. I think it helps when you know that you are the No 1 centre-half, you know you will play every game – and Ciaran never had that with Ireland.

It sets your mindset for the week when you come in to the national team for a camp, it just gives you that shot of confidence you need. You know there are people in the squad looking to take your place. So you focus on keeping it.

But when you’re on the other side, a squad player really, you know all week how the team will set up and you won’t play. You can try to change the manager’s mind in training but it might not make any difference.

So when you arrive into the hotel at the start of an Ireland camp and know you’ll play in the game, it does put a spring in your step and it gives you a focus for the week, which Clark will have once he come into the camp next weekend.

The other issue for Kenny is how to accommodate Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman into the side, and they both have to play. There has been a suggestion of a three at the back, where Seamus could play, with Matt in at wing back, if Kenny goes that way.

But you need your best players on the pitch and they both have to start.

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