INTERNATIONAL START: Kelleher not looking back ahead of Ireland debut
Caoimhin Kelleher is refusing to dwell on what might have been as he prepares to make his first start for the Republic of Ireland in Tuesday night’s friendly against Qatar, seven months after missing out on his big chance.
The 22-year-old Liverpool goalkeeper was in line to win his first senior cap in a World Cup qualifier against Serbia in March, but a stomach muscle injury saw Mark Travers get the nod instead, and it was to 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu that manager Stephen Kenny turned for the home clash with Luxembourg three days later.
The teenager has been the man in possession largely ever since to leave Kelleher a frustrated bystander, although he insists he has not been left wondering what might have been.
He said: “Not really, no. I obviously back myself to do well whenever I play, but I don’t think of what ifs or if I was fit or whatever.
“It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t spend time thinking about that. If I get capped, I know what I’m capable of.”
Kelleher could be forgiven for any impatience as his lack of senior action for Ireland – he made his debut as a substitute in a 0-0 friendly draw in Hungary in June – having already played Champions League football for his club.
However, his chances have been limited at Anfield this season. He has just one Carabao Cup appearance to his name, although Alisson Becker’s international commitments with Brazil mean he could get the nod against Watford in the Premier League on Saturday and, while Bazunu is playing his football with Portsmouth in League One on loan from Manchester City, he is playing regularly.
The pair were in under-21s squads together under Kenny and along with Bournemouth’s Travers, form a highly-competitive goalkeeping group.
Kelleher said: “Of course it’s going to be difficult. I think the first team, it’s always going to be difficult.
“Three good goalkeepers, myself, Mark and Gavin all competing for one spot is healthy competition. We all get on with each other. It’s only healthy for us and good for us.
“I like it, I like competition. It makes you better.”
Kenny has little doubt about the quality Kelleher can bring to Ireland, but with Bazunu having made the number one spot his own in the last few months, has had limited opportunities to give him the international football he craves.
The manager said: “Caoimhin is a real natural goalkeeper, he’s a terrific talent. He played 10 times for me as under-21s manager, so I’m obviously well aware of his qualities.
“He did terrifically well, he was just unfortunate last season when he was injured and that opened the door in March for Gavin Bazunu, who has been terrific.
“Caoimhin made his debut at half-time in the game against Hungary but this is his first start tomorrow and in front of the home crowd, so he deserves it.”
Kenny is hoping to follow up his first competitive win in Azerbaijan on Saturday evening and just his second full-stop with a maiden victory on home turf against the World Cup hosts, but is aware that may not be straightforward.
He said: “They’re a very attacking team, they commit everything. They like to control a lot of games even against the better teams, so we’ll have to play really well and we want to do that.
“We want to win at home. We want to experience that. We want the supporters to experience that. That’s certainly what we want.”
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