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learning curve Stephen Kenny's youth plan has stalled for now, but one shining star is standing tall

Ireland are showing signs of becoming World class team again with stars like Gavin Bazunu

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14 November 2021; Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Luxembourg and Republic of Ireland at Stade de Luxembourg in Luxembourg. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

14 November 2021; Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Luxembourg and Republic of Ireland at Stade de Luxembourg in Luxembourg. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

14 November 2021; Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Luxembourg and Republic of Ireland at Stade de Luxembourg in Luxembourg. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The harsh realities of international football forced Stephen Kenny to revise his devotion to youthful performers, but two of his young guns look certain to stand the test of time.

Amid the car crash that was the 1-0 defeat against Luxembourg in Dublin back in March, Kenny's scattergun approach to throwing youthful players into his team tossed out a sparkling gem who had continued to shine.

It may have been the night when Kenny's credibility as Ireland manager was pushed to breaking point but it was also the moment when young keeper Gavin Bazunu announced himself to the world.

His impressive display against Luxembourg ensured the embarrassment against a team ranked at No.98 in the FIFA standings did not become a humiliation that may have swept Kenny out of office.

After what we have seen since from 19-year-old Dubliner, Bazunu has confirmed that he is no one-hit wonder.

He has cemented his place in the Ireland side ahead of Kenny's other great young gun, Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Roll the clock back a year and the likely leaders of ­Kenny's youthful Ireland revolution would have been Jayson Molumby, Troy Parrott, Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly.

Yet the evolution of this World Cup qualifying story has ­propelled other names ahead of those three, with Bazunu at the top of the list.

The Manchester City keeper has caught the eye time and again in Ireland colours, with the regular first team action he is getting in a loan spell with Portsmouth this season helping his development.

Yet all has not gone entirely according to plan for Bazunu as he hones his talents in England's third tier, with his sparkling displays for Ireland contrasted by the odd high profile mistake in a struggling Portsmouth side.

Pompey boss Danny Cowley has been forced to defend his on-loan keeper in the media in recent weeks, yet the support Bazunu is getting from his temporary boss is complete.

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Gavin Bazunu has made mistakes but he doesn't dwell on them, he learns from them, he says

Gavin Bazunu has made mistakes but he doesn't dwell on them, he learns from them, he says

Gavin Bazunu has made mistakes but he doesn't dwell on them, he learns from them, he says

"Gavin's a top kid, he's going to be a top player," declares the Portsmouth manager. "He loves his football, it means a lot to him, but he probably has the strongest mentality out of everyone in the group, so he will come through.

"He's a top goalkeeper and has been excellent for us. Yes he has made some mistakes, but that is the life of a keeper."

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Bazunu's mistakes have been compensated by some high quality performances as he looks to back up a Portsmouth defence that have left him exposed at times and he is relishing the challenge in League One.

"You've got to put mistakes behind you straight away and can't let it affect your performance for the rest of the game," says Bazunu. "Afterwards you look at the videos, so you can recognise where you went wrong and try to improve on that.

"I've got a lot of trust in the way this manager does things here and am grateful for the trust that has in me.

"Part of the reason why you come out on loan in the first place is to learn from any mistakes that you make. There's absolutely no point dwelling on the past. You have to concentrate on the present and the next game.

"To get to the top level, that's the approach you need. You can't afford to let one mistake become several.

"Those who put it behind them and go on to have a perfect game are showing why they play at an elite level."

This story could have been very different if Kelleher has not been ruled out of the international break that saw Bazunu earn his international debut in the Luxembourg game.

As Liverpool's No.2, Cork-stopper Kelleher may well have been ahead of Bazunu in the Ireland pecking order prior to that Ireland get-together, but the more experienced keeper now finds himself as back-up to Ireland's new No.1.

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Top Premier League keeper Caoimhin Kelleher is now Ireland's Number 2

Top Premier League keeper Caoimhin Kelleher is now Ireland's Number 2

Top Premier League keeper Caoimhin Kelleher is now Ireland's Number 2

With just one position up for grabs, it is unfortunate that Ireland's two best young players are both battling it out for one jersey, with the player who has Premier League and Champions League experience the understudy to his youthful rival.

Kenny has hinted that he would like to see Kelleher out on loan by Liverpool to test himself on a regular basis at first team level, yet Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Acterberg believes he will develop as he serves as back-up to Alisson Becker.

"He would like to play games and obviously that would be easier if he went out on loan, but the problem for us is we need three good goalies and he is one of our three," Acterberg told the Sunday World.

"It's not the ideal solution for him and maybe playing matches would be what he needs now, but he is training with top players every day at Liverpool and will continue to progress.

"Working with someone as good as Alison every day for the last couple of years can only help him. He sets such high standards in everything he does and you can only learn from working with someone like that."

Bazunu caught the eye once more in the rematch with Luxembourg last Sunday, as the final game of the World Cup qualifying campaign revived memories of a harrowing night in Dublin for Kenny.

His eagerness to blood players who were not ready to play senior international football backfired horribly.

A team that was not ready for top-tier football fluffed their lines in a desperate fashion as Gerson Rodrigues' 85th-minute winner for the 98th-ranked ­visitors inflicted one of the worst defeats ever suffered by an Ireland team.

It was a harsh lesson for a manager who recalled some of his more senior professionals since, as he learned from his mistake and accepted his medicine.

On reflection, it may be that Kenny himself was not ready for the challenge of international football at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign and some of the players he picked were certainly short of what is required to compete at the highest level, but the mood has changed now.

Kenny's naïve experiment with youth has now been balanced with the infusion of the proven performers that offer real hope of long-term success - and a good ­victory against the side that dented so many Irish reputations earlier this year will confirm as much.

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