Kenny’s Kids: Caoimhin Kelleher finally gets the chance he deserves

Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has found minutes hard to come by

Ireland take on Qatar at a sold-out Aviva Stadium this evening hoping to build on Saturday’s 3-0 victory against Azerbaijan. Stephen Kenny has hinted that there will only be a few changes to the starting eleven with Josh Cullen and Daryl Horgan definitely out through injury.

It is expected for Jason Knight to make his return to the green shirt after a period on the sidelines, while Jamie McGrath and Burnley centre-back Nathan Collins may also come into the team.

Unlike Cullen and Horgan, teenage sensation Gavin Bazunu is fit to play but will have to settle for a place on the bench as Caoimhin Kelleher is handed his first shot at Lansdowne Road action.

Kenny is a big fan of Kelleher having worked with him for the Ireland U21s and it is possible that the Corkman would have started Ireland’s previous nine games only for sustaining an injury before the Serbia clash last March.

Instead, Mark Travers was given his chance that night in Belgrade, and three days later Bazunu made his first of God knows how many appearances for the Boys In Green.

Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher promised this chance

Kenny promised Kelleher this opportunity during the last international window. It would be impossible to justify taking Bazunu out of the side for any competitive fixture right now but the least somebody as talented as the former Ringmahon Rangers stopper deserves is the chance to stake a claim in a friendly fixture.

When Ireland played Hungary in June, Kelleher came on at half-time and produced some heroics between the sticks – unfortunately for him,  Bazunu did likewise in the first half.

Caoimhin Kelleher paving his own way for club and country

But Kelleher’s portfolio of work for Liverpool is adding weight to his argument. Last season was a positive one for the 22-year-old as Alisson Becker’s injury struggles opened the door for some top tier displays on the big stage.

Kelleher’s performance against Ajax at Anfield was particularly memorable as he pulled off an incredible late save to deny Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of an equaliser. His work on the ball was equally brilliant that night and a few days later he backed it up with another clean sheet against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He would also play against Danish side Midtjylland in the Champions League and again at home to Brighton on the 3rd of March. While Bazunu has reaped the rewards for learning lessons out on loan at Rochdale and Portsmouth, Kelleher seems to have improved his own game drastically by training alongside Alisson day in day out.

Whenever the Irishman gets a start for Liverpool he looks like a very polished player indeed and training against sharp-shooters like Mohamed Salah can’t be hurting his progress either. Getting first-team experience out on loan is widely agreed to be the better option for young players but Kelleher is proving that it isn’t necessarily a ‘one size fits all’ discussion.

Kelleher has started just once this season, being handed the jersey for Liverpool’s Carabao Cup match against Norwich City last month. For many players the lack of gametime would be a concern, but for a personality as collected and focused as Kelleher, there is no need to worry. He believes in his ability, he believes his time will come and when you’re saving the day whenever called upon by Jurgen Klopp it helps confidence too.

Caoimhin Kelleher happy to remain at Liverpool.

Speaking yesterday Kelleher said he is quite content with his career path.

“I think it’s a different situation for me anyway,” he explained. “Liverpool want me to stay, I’m No. 2 this season and it’s a good position to be in I think. Hopefully it’s a chance to play some games and the opportunity to play at a high level. I need to play well, if I need to have a conversation about playing more games, I’ll have it. I’m in a good position where I am.”

“I don’t regret anything, it’s different for everyone, different individuals, it’s different journeys, the way my career is going is completely different so I don’t have any regrets, I am happy to do what I do and how it has turned out.”

Exciting times ahead for Kelleher and Bazunu

Whatever way the battle between Kelleher and Bazunu eventually swings, Ireland are going to be blessed with a quality operator between the sticks. This evening’s match is going to be an amazing occasion for the Liverpool keeper as his family and friends make the trip to the Aviva to see him strutting his stuff for his country.

It’s already been a positive week and if Kelleher can help the team make it back-to-back victories for the first time in the Kenny era then the feeling around this team could drastically change for the better.

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