It feels like Caoimhin Kelleher and Gavin Bazunu are destined to permanently live in the same news cycle.
On the week that it’s announced that Kelleher has signed a new long-term deal at Liverpool, confirmation is expected of a loan move for Bazunu to League One, with Portsmouth at the front of the queue to secure the services of the Manchester City netminder.
There’s an interesting contrast between the career paths of the highly talented duo that are set to battle it out for the Ireland shirt over the next decade, possibly starting from later this year – even though Darren Randolph still just abou, remains in the equation.
Teenager Bazunu is three years and three months younger than Kelleher, who turns 23 in November.
However, his loan spell at Rochdale last season means he has played more senior football than the Corkman – and that gap will increase if he gets another full campaign between the sticks in English football’s third tier.
By contrast, all the indications are that Kelleher is now the second choice at Liverpool behind Alisson Becker. Securing a five-year contract with a top Premier League side is elite status, and it should bring his earnings north of the €2m-a-year mark.
It became clear last summer that Kelleher was moving up the ranks at Anfield, and there was mixed feelings around that in the Ireland camp.
Plans for a loan switch to Holland were shelved amid concerns about Alisson’s fitness and Kelleher was required back at base.
His assured performance off the bench against Hungary earlier this month showcased his undoubted quality – and, if he can avoid the injuries that cut short his club campaign this term, then he should get a fair bit of game time in cup competitions.
The fact that he is getting to spend every day with some of the best players in the world, and will be close up to football at the very highest level, makes a compelling case for his Irish promotion.
Yet the flip side of that argument is that a handful of appearances for a Liverpool side that would expect to dominate a lot of matches may not offer the rounded education that Bazunu is encountering by dropping down the leagues.
The Shamrock Rovers product was handed a four-year deal last August before departing for acharacter-building stay at Rochdale.
Brian Barry-Murphy’s charges preferred an open and expansive style that left them exposed defensively, and Bazunu suffered some chastening afternoons for the relegation-bound strugglers.
Indeed, the 19-year-old was taken out of the firing line after returning from his international breakthrough in March (Kelleher’s injury enforced absence allowed Bazunu to jump up Stephen Kenny’s pecking order) with Barry-Murphy subsequently stating that the Dubliner needed a breather
If he opts for Portsmouth over other options, he will be challenging near the top end of the table, and that should bring him on further. Kenny was keen to give Bazunu the first half against Hungary, because he wanted to see how he fared in front of spectators given that his Rochdale stint was all behind closed doors.
A handful of outings for Shamrock Rovers as a 16-year-old was his only proper crowd exposure prior to that point.
The pre-match statements from Kenny indicated strongly that Bazunu was in contention for September’s World Cup qualifier in Portugal.
Yet he also observed that honing in on club game time may not be as relevant for that particular window. The squad will just be coming out of pre-season, where minutes tend to be shared about.
With Alisson away on Copa America duty with Brazil, it’s likely that Kelleher will be afforded plenty of opportunities ahead of the new campaign and will therefore be sharp when Kenny’s treble-header comes into sight.
Should Randolph get opportunities in West Ham’s preparations, then maybe he remains in the mix, too. But it feels like Kenny has reached the point in the road where the progressive step would be to place his trust in the likely stars of the next generation.
Kelleher is closer to the top of the mountain in terms of his status with his super club. “I’d love to be here for the rest of my career,” he said this week.
But Bazunu is going out on the road with a view to making that jump with Man City and there’s confidence he can get there.
Both have time on their side, but miles on the clock could take on serious short-term significance.