Darren Randolph: I had no idea I'd replace Shay against Germany - We weren't told who was number two
As Shay Given lay stricken on the Aviva Stadium turf amid the showdown with world champions Germany last month, Darren Randolph didn’t know whether his moment of destiny had arrived.
Remarkably, Martin O’Neill had not nominated a second choice goalkeeper ahead of a game that had the potential define his tenure as Republic of Ireland boss, with Randolph among those taken by surprise when he was thrown into the line of German fire.
“We are just told to sit on the bench in case of an emergency, that’s the way the manager does things,” states Randolph.
“So I saw Shay being put I the stretcher and was doing a few warming up exercises on the touchline with Davie Forde, I had no idea which one of us would be going on.
“Then the shout I had been waiting a long time for came and suddenly I found myself going on against Germany.
“I have done a lot of travelling with Ireland and not played too often, but this was certainly a big game to be going on for.
“I guess if I had more time to think about the enormity of the occasion and what it meant for me and Ireland, I would have been more nervous about it all, but I didn’t have time for that.
“It was excitement that I was going on rather than nervousness.
“It didn’t really matter that it was the world champions we were playing and how big a game it was.
“I couldn’t think about that because that would not have been good for me.
“You just want to get your touches of the ball and feel a part of it. You don’t really think about that when you get onto the field and thankfully it went quite well for me.
“I guess it was the highlight of my career so far, but hopefully it is the first of many highlights we will have with Ireland in the next few years.”
Randolph’s modest reflections do not do justice to his display on a night when many could have been forgiven for crumbling under a spotlight that was brighter than he has experienced in a career that has taken in spells with Charlton, Motherwell, Birmingham and now West Ham.
This affable 28-year-old who hails from the idyllic Wicklow outpost of Bray has played in the Premier League this season, but that kind of pressure was nothing compared to the drama he was now suddenly playing a lead role in.
Ireland’s Euro 2016 fate was on the line against a German machine that were peppering the goal he was asked to occupy with relentless attacks, but he held firm to play a key role in the greatest victory for our national team since Jason McAteer scored his iconic goal in a World Cup qualifier against Holland back in 2001.
“I was there that day when we beat Holland and that atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium for the Germany game was as close as I can remember to that in the years since,” reflects Randolph, who was a regular watching Ireland games at the old Lansdowne Road in his youth.
“The atmosphere was always amazing in the old stadium for the big qualifiers, when we were doing well and pushing for qualification for major tournaments every couple of years.
“It hasn’t been quite so good in the Aviva, but the noise generated in that Germany game was as close as I can remember to those days at the old Lansdowne. To be part of it and playing was amazing.
“When you sit down in the dressing room and everyone is singing and cheering, you realize what has just happened.
“The manager said a few words to the lads and then it begins to sink in that we have beaten Germany, before thoughts quickly turned to Poland.
“I knew I would be playing in Warsaw, so that meant I had more time to build up to the game. People were saying that if we could beat Germany, then we can beat Poland, but football doesn’t work like that sadly.
“There was big disappointment after the game in Warsaw, but we would have taken a play-off when we were four point behind Scotland in the group a few weeks back. We have to be ready for that next month.”
The euphoria of the win against Germany was replaced with the despair of defeat in Poland a few days later, but thoughts swiftly turned to the Euro 2016 play-offs next months.
Randolph suddenly appears to be well placed to establish himself as Ireland’s No.1, yet his lack of first team football at West Ham may well be a barrier to that ambition.
“I feel ready to play and hopefully I showed what I can do in the game against Germany and Poland,” states the keeper who won his first international call-up in March 2011 and has only made his senior competitive debut against the Germans.
“The aim now has to be to get a run in the team and I don’t think my position at West Ham should affect that. I have played enough times here this season to show that I’m ready if needed.”
Randolph admits the No.23 jersey that he wore as he provided the thumping long ball that turned out to be an assist for Shane Long’s winning goal was still packed in his Ireland kit-bag long after he came back down to earth from his career-defining display, but it is destined for pride of place among his collection.
“That shirt may well end up in a frame sooner rather than later,” he adds.
“It was a great night to be a part of and I suppose everything that happened sunk when I returned to West Ham.
“The play-offs have come around very quickly now and hopefully I have a chance to be a part of a team that should be fuelled with belief and confidence after we beat the world champions.
“We all know these next two games are going to be very tough, but they are winnable. We have to believe that.”
Irish soccer was given a timely reminder of what a glory night feels like Randolph and his fellow heroes in green completed mission improbable against Germany.
Here’s hoping it is a sign of things to come.
RANDOLPH WANTED TO BE A BASKETBALL STAR
Darren Randolph became a hero for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium as he kept a clean sheet in the famous Euro 2016 qualifying win against world champions Germany – but he admits his first sporting dream was to become a basketball star in America’s NBA.
Randolph’s father Ed came to Ireland to take part in the Irish Super League in 1980s, with his son keen to realize the dream that his father failed to achieve by making it big Stateside.
“I wanted to be a basketball player and make it in the NBA,” says the goalkeeper who played for the Irish national team in the sport.
“My brother and I loved basketball and that was the first sporting target for me.
“I also played a lot of Gaelic football growing up in Bray. I played in midfield and full-back and played for Wicklow as well.
“When I got a chance to go to Charlton, football took over, but I loved playing Gaelic. It all seems a long time ago now.”
Ed was a proud observer as his son made an unexpected appearance in the 1-0 win against Germany, with his Dad’s influence clearly pivotal in a sporting career that may now be about to enter its most compelling chapter as he looks to establish himself in the Ireland team.
Yet his background in Bray is not forgotten by Randolph, who admits he loves nothing better than heading home every summer to revisit his former haunts.
“I love going back to Bray and it always amazes me how small everything looks now,” he adds.
“When I was a kid growing up there, it seemed like such a big place, but when you spend time in London or the bigger cities, you realize how small Bray is, but it is great place and I’m so proud of where I come from.
“Hopefully we all made a few people in Ireland feel proud with the win against Germany, but we all want more now in the play-offs.”
GETTING TO KNOW DARREN RANDOLPH
Born: May 12th 1987 in Bray, Co Wicklow
* Born to an American father in Ed and an Irish mother Anne, Randolph qualifying to play for the USA national team, but has always been committed to the Irish cause.
* Randolph played basketball for Ireland and Gaelic football for Bray and Wicklow before taking up a chance to join Premier League side Charlton in 2004.
* Charlton boss Alan Pardew handed Randolph his Premier League debut in the final match of the 2006-7 Premier League season, away at Liverpool.
* After a series of loan spells away from Charlton, he moved to Motherwell in 2010 and became a first team regular for the Scottish side.
* Capped by Ireland at junior levels, he won his first call-up to the senior Ireland side in March 2011 and made his debut against Oman in September 2012.
* He moved to English Championship side Birmingham in 2013, becoming a regular in their line-up until his move to West Ham last summer.
* Randolph has played in three Premier League matches and three Europa League qualifiers for West Ham this season, but he is second choice keeper behind Spanish stopper Adrian.
* Prior to his substitute appearance against Germany, Randolph has played a total of 62 minutes of international football after appearing as a substitute on two previous occasions.