'Delighted' Caoimhin Kelleher reveals dash to make Toulon after highs of Liverpool
Caoimhin Kelleher insisted his late dash to link up with Ireland’s U-21s for yesterday’s Toulon Tournament opener was well worth it.
Stephen Kenny allowed the Cork goalkeeper to remain with the Liverpool squad for Saturday’s final.
The 20-year-old left Madrid with a medal around his neck as Jurgen Klopp’s third-choice goalkeeper.
Kelleher was also on the team bus that paraded around the city to 750,000 fans on Sunday before linking up with the Ireland squad yesterday.
Kenny was grateful for his late arrival in time to face China as he produced a save at a crucial juncture of the victory.
With Ireland leading 2-1 approaching the break, Kelleher got down brilliantly to prevent an equaliser by sticking out a leg to thwart Huanhuan Shan’s shot.
"I always wanted to come here for this tournament," he said.
"I made my debut in Stephen’s first game and learned a lot about what he expects over nine days in camp.
"I had to get a flight from Manchester to Nice this morning and was delighted to start in goal. Hopefully we can build on this victory."
To dominate an older China side managed by Dutch legend Guus Hiddink was particularly satisfying for ex-Dundalk boss Kenny.
Zack Elbouzedi fired Ireland ahead after just 33 seconds, followed by a second from debutant Aaron Connolly’s four minutes later.
China threatened a comeback by pulling one back through Yang Li’s 18th-minute header but a pair of second-half penalties from Norwich City’s Adam Idah completed another resounding victory.
Up next for Ireland is last year’s runners-up, Mexico, on Thursday night followed by the concluding Group C match against Bahrain on Sunday. They need to finish top to be sure of qualifying for next week’s semi-finals.
"I was delighted with the overall performance," admitted Kenny, who is due to succeed Mick McCarthy in the senior post next year.
"China's first touch of the game was the tip-off after our opener.
"We had practised how we played from the kick-off but not exactly the move that led to Zack's goal.
"People might associate China with technical style but they’re a strong, physical team that are dangerous from set-pieces.
"It was disappointing to concede one from a corner-kick but it was a very pleasing display from all the players. I couldn't fault any of them."
Ireland didn't waste time in forging ahead.
Connolly raced to the end-line inside the first minute and his cut-back allowed Elbouzedi to side-foot a first-time shot from 10 yards in off the underside of the crossbar.
The Brighton man’s volleyed finish had Ireland in cruise control until Yang Li punished slack marking by heading in to make it 2-1.
There would be no comeback as marksman Idah added two penalties, each awarded for handballs.