Wednesday 21 February 2018

'I know how good I am, so I'll just move on' - Randolph

Randolph insists his confidence has not been shaken by sudden departure from West Ham

Darren Randolph. Photo: Sportsfile
Darren Randolph. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Three years have passed since Martin O'Neill's first competitive game as Ireland manager and last night they arrived back at the scene.

Darren Randolph is trying to remember if he was in Tbilisi. "Actually no, I was on standby," he says, the correct answer despite suggestions to the contrary from a press man.

The FAI's release from the time confirms it.

"Stephen Kelly and Jeff Hendrick are suffering from injuries and Andy Reid has been withdrawn from the squad to receive medical treatment," started the bulletin they sent out on August 30, 2014.

"Darren Randolph, Ciaran Clark, Paul McShane, Shane Duffy, Damien Delaney, Simon Cox and Conor Sammon remain on standby. Shay Given has been called in to the final squad."

It's a disparate list of names in the context of where their careers have gone since. Randolph will start between the sticks tomorrow with Clark and Duffy likely to form the centre-half partnership ahead of him.

By coincidence, Hendrick is injured again and McShane is back in the standby zone. Delaney's Premier League career has continued but his Irish days were basically ended by that omission.

Reid has retired, while Kelly, Cox and Sammon can now be described as former internationals.

It was Given's comeback that dominated the headlines back then. Randolph's exclusion was nothing out of the ordinary because he'd been around the squad for some time without getting on the pitch in a meaningful game. A year later, Given broke down against Germany, O'Neill turned to the Bray man and the rest is history.

He now expects to start, never mind make the plane.

"I wouldn't say you feel comfortable," he says. "But this won't be the biggest game I've played in or the biggest capacity stadium. Then again, it won't be the easiest game either.

"The more games you play and the type you play at a higher level, you gain confidence from that."

You get the sense from the 30-year-old that the summer just gone has been an education.

Football can be even more cut-throat the higher a player climbs up the ladder. Last term, Randolph appeared to have made a career breakthrough when he got a sustained run of Premier League games with West Ham.

A loss of form allowed Adrian back in towards the end of the campaign but there was still talk of a new contract before his summer break, even as speculation about Joe Hart gathered.

He didn't realise that a big change was coming around the corner, but he is cagey about the specific details of discussions. "On the first day, it was all talk of an extension, they wanted me to stay there," he says. "I hadn't got that (contract) but I was supposed to. It was on the table and I spoke about it but when we eventually met up, well, by the third or fourth day I was looking for an exit strategy. It all happened very quickly."

Because of Joe Hart's arrival?

"Yeah, they had bent over backwards to get him so it made more sense for me to get out," he continues. "The way it was put to me, it was made pretty clear. I could have stayed there and waited but I didn't want to wait around."

Randolph moved quickly. There were a variety of options and he doesn't deny Newcastle were sniffing around but Middlesbrough made a firm move as they looked to build a squad to bounce straight back to the Premier League.

Needed

"Middlesbrough had actually come in for me at the end of last season but West Ham had said no," he says. "So when I wanted to get out, I got back in contact with them. I pretty much needed to get it done in a couple of days and they were good enough to get it done."

He has joined a club with Premier League facilities and expectations and that has removed the stench that could accompany a downgrade in status. There was no pain in what some would consider to be rejection.

"No," he replies, answering quickly when he can sometimes labour over other replies. "I've been there, done it and I know how good I am. So I'll just move on, carry on again and keep enjoying life."

Ireland was on his mind. His colleagues and rivals this week are Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot, both of whom have started their club campaigns as first choice.

Randolph's position was a talking point ahead of June's draw with Austria as he came into the game after an inactive run whereas Westwood was starring for Sheffield Wednesday. But O'Neill kept the faith. That was a confidence boost, yet the player also sensed that he couldn't afford a campaign built around cup games.

"I can't expect to play here if I'm not playing at a club," he stresses. "I got away with it before for a few months at West Ham.

"If you're playing week in, week out I suppose your decisions are much sharper but, like I said, from the manager's point of view I don't think he could just accept me sitting on the bench for the whole season and then expect to go and play in the World Cup."

That is the ultimate aim, of course, and tomorrow's match is a significant hurdle along the way. Randolph says this group have the right mindset; confidence but not arrogance.

"It's self-confidence because you've been there before," he says. "I'm not saying you go into the games thinking it's going to be easy. You know it's going to be tough and you have to do the horrible things, the dirty stuff, first, and hopefully the quality comes off the back of that.

"As long as we're prepared to do that, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't come out on top."

Irish Independent

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