Thursday 24 August 2017

Randolph vows to enjoy new status after ending his 15-year wait

Ireland keeper relaxed as West Ham call finally makes him a first-choice Premier League player

Bilic's decision should further secure Darren Randolph's position as Martin O'Neill's number one on the Ireland squad. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Bilic's decision should further secure Darren Randolph's position as Martin O'Neill's number one on the Ireland squad. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

It's Friday afternoon at West Ham United's training ground out in Romford, and Slaven Bilic has just told the media that Darren Randolph is now his number one goalkeeper - but he clearly hasn't told Randolph himself.

"It's the first I've heard of it," the 29-year-old chuckles, reacting to confirmation of what should be a major career development as if Bilic had instead just given him the minor responsibility for picking the dressing-room music. Then again, it's probably precisely that kind of laid-back composure that has got Randolph where he is, and set to start a league game at Manchester United today.

This progress, however, should not be under-played. Because, 15 years after first moving from Ardmore Rovers in Bray to Charlton Athletic as a youth player, he is finally the regular starting goalkeeper at a Premier League club.

The concrete resolve behind that composed personality shouldn't be ­under-estimated either. As relaxed as Randolph comes across, he took something of a calculated risk by even joining West Ham from Birmingham City in 2015 in the first place, especially as by then, he had a regular place in the Irish squad. The goalkeeper was going from regular football at a big Championship club to a team where there was already an established first-choice in Adrian, who had earned a lot of praise and respect. It wasn't as if Randolph was joining a club where the goalkeeper was suspect, and already under pressure. But he backed himself.

"I knew when I came that's how it was going to be," he explains. "I obviously backed myself and it was another challenge. I could have stayed in the Championship and played but I wanted the challenge and wanted to try and progress . . . another challenge for me that I was willing to meet head on.

"I knew I would have to be patient when I first arrived. I was lucky enough to have a decent cup run last year, that helped along the way. It's been a long wait but now I just want to enjoy it."

It's also something Ireland can enjoy. Bilic's decision should further secure Randolph's position as Martin O'Neill's number one, but that makes him just one of a number of the international squad who are going through a good time in their club careers. If you go through Ireland's main 13 or 14 players, in fact, almost all are getting regular football and playing well.

It has been an important factor in an impressive year that has ended with that fine away win in Austria and first place in the qualification group. Randolph is very conscious of the fact that it's still very early in the campaign, though, and is even wary of being asked whether it feels like O'Neill's side have clicked.

"I don't know if it's clicked," he answers. "I think we've just got a lot of confidence from the Euros. We've had a good start but that's all it is really, a good start. We're not even half-way. After we play Wales [at Lansdowne Road in March], we'll be half-way through the group stage. So it'll obviously be brilliant if we qualify, then we can probably say it's clicked two tournaments in a row, but it's just a start is all it is. I think there are still going to be teams that can take points off other teams in that group."

It is almost a pity that Ireland now have four months without a fixture just at a stage when it feels like they can take points from anybody, then, especially with how they seem to have benefited from the regular meet-ups from qualifying for Euro 2016.

"I know, yeah, you have a break when you don't really want one," Randolph acknowledges. "It is a shame, because we're doing so well. Maybe you don't want to break the confidence. Again, it gives a chance for everyone to get games, maybe people struggling with little injuries here and there. Maybe it will even benefit us.

"When we were meeting the last couple of months, we'd see each other every month, so you'd go in, the first couple of days normally relaxed, then it's three days where it's just game, game, game. It will probably be the same when we meet up again, first couple of days be relaxed and then again probably look back over previous games' performances, and then focus on Wales. It's like anything in international football. You don't have a lot of time with players, so you can't really dwell on the past, you have to look forward to the game and what's going on."

Randolph, however, is well aware how quickly momentum and confidence can evaporate. It has happened at West Ham. They've gone from a team who challenged for the top four last season to one in the bottom four right now. They've also gone to a new stadium but, for all that the move from the Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium has been discussed, Randolph thinks it's all a lot simpler than that - and not that concerning. He thinks they just suffered one of those customary bad runs of form that teams do, but at precisely the wrong time.

"We're all settled in now," Randolph explains. "The stadium just happens to coincide with the run we're on.

"The squad we have, we shouldn't be where we are. It happens every season to a team . . . it's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is. Last year, maybe we had new players nobody knew about and this year, everyone's aware of how we did last year.

"I don't know, maybe last year we were getting the luck, getting a goal and holding onto it, and this year it hasn't been that way.

"Last year, when results were going our way, you could even tell at training. Everyone was going to training laughing and joking, ­going back out to the next game, winning that game. Confidence was massive and that definitely got us through some points of last season.

"When it's high, you don't think about anything, you just go and react and play. When things aren't going so well you might second-guess yourself, might not want to come out of position so much, or try and pass a ball you would have passed last year. It does have an effect.

"I'm sure if we get a couple of results again, the confidence will come back. You look at the table. You look at the table on a Monday morning and, even if everyone's on the same points, if you're sitting in eighth position it's like a weight off your shoulder."

Randolph points out that, despite last week's late collapse against Tottenham Hotspur, results have been picking up. What's more, they go to a Manchester United team today who have at their own problems at home, having not won there in four league games. Randolph feels they can frustrate Jose Mourinho's side, and thereby frustrate Wayne Rooney's attempt to score the two goals that would see him break Bobby Charlton's United goal record - not that the goalkeeper is especially bothered by that.

"To be honest, I don't really care. He's been around for I don't know how long and scored however many goals. I don't really care, as long as we win."

In passing, Randolph is asked who he grew up supporting. Another smile breaks out.

"Who I supported? I can't say!"

He can, however, say that he's a first-choice Premier League goalkeeper.

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