Tuesday 20 February 2018

Randolph converts hoop dreams to net gains for Boys in Green

Ireland and West Ham keeper Darren Randolph previously played for the Irish basketball team at an underage level
Ireland and West Ham keeper Darren Randolph previously played for the Irish basketball team at an underage level

Barry Lennon

His assist may have helped Ireland's campaign for Euro 2016, but Darren Randolph has already played at a European championships, albeit in another code.

Some of the 28-year-old's last playing days in basketball were the European Championships at an underage level, before Charlton FC came knocking on his door - eventually leading to his current post as goalkeeper West Ham.

This interest in basketball was due to the influence of his father Ed who was among a wave of Americans who came to Ireland to join the Super League in the '80s, first playing for Sporting Belfast.

"Guys like me in the States were a dime a dozen. The NBA wasn't going to happen, the skill level is far too high," Ed says.

"When I was playing in the Rhode Island Summer League I was lucky to be scouted by two guys from Belfast.

"For me to (come to Ireland) and get paid to do something I was good at was great".

"Belfast was real different back then, barbed wire, patrols, army checkpoints - a world apart."

Small wonder Ed - who since played for UCD Marian and Killester as well as coaching in schools around Dublin - would encourage Darren's start in his sport from an early age.

"He used to go with me when I'd be coaching. If I brought Darren out to the different schools, it would give (my wife) Anne a break from child-minding when he was young," he recalls.

"He'd be there every Saturday, he'd pick up a ball and join in.

"He eventually developed in the game. He started to play for UCD Marian, at a time when they didn't have a boys' team.

"He also played for his school, Pres Bray, and was part of the first Pres team that played in an All-Ireland 'C' final and won."

When Charlton came knocking, Darren turned down the interest of North Dublin side Roma St Vincent's for the much more lucrative option in England.

There was never any conflict between his sporting interests - football was always top, his dad says.

After loan spells at several English clubs, Randolph established himself as first-choice keeper at Motherwell, breaking the club's clean sheet record.

Recently, following a three-year stint at Birmingham, Randolph got a big chance to shine in the Premier League when deputising for an injured Adrian at West Ham.

His ability in the air, which his father accredits to his basketball days, helped him progress not only as a keeper but in another sport, Gaelic football.

Playing for Bray Emmets as a full-back, Randolph was part of a side that won an U-15 Wicklow final.

"With his ability to jump there was nearly no need for a goalkeeper, he could reach everything," Ed says.

While swapping codes has been fruitful, swapping country has not, as Ed reveals that despite expressing interest in playing for the USA, Darren has heard next to nothing.

Following a promising competitive start for Ireland, Randolph has certainly nailed his colours to the mast.

Irish Independent

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