Sport International Soccer

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Randolph inherits a proud legacy in Irish goal

Darren Randolph shuts down the danger against Switzerland’s Breel Embol. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Darren Randolph shuts down the danger against Switzerland’s Breel Embol. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

If Carlsberg did goalkeepers, they could well 'do' Irish goalkeepers.

This tiny country, which has hugely competing demands for young talent given our sporting love of GAA, rugby, and of course, soccer, is a model for producing good goalies.

Think Shay Given, holder of 129 caps. Think Packie Bonner, 80 times an international, the hero of Stuttgart in 1988 and of that nerve-shredding penalty shootout against Romania at Italia '90.

Before them, the last line of defence was manned by quality netminders such as Alan Kelly Senior, who won 47 caps between 1956 and '73; Alan Kelly Junior (34 caps); Gerry Peyton (33 caps); Seamus McDonagh, the current Irish goalkeeper coach, who played 25 times, and Mick Kearns (18 caps).

Internationally renowned household names? Given and Bonner take the kudos there.

But do not underestimate the quality of the Kellys, father and son, of Peyton, McDonagh, Kearns and others who did duty between the sticks for the Republic.

Rarely, if ever, was a goalkeeper at fault when the Irish team lost crucial qualifying matches, particularly in the 1960s and '70s, and into the pre-Jack Charlton era of the early eighties.

On the contrary, newspaper reports, such as that from Paris in the infamous 1965 World Cup play-off against Spain, often hailed the performance of the goalkeeper.

In that particular situation, it was Manchester United's Pat Dunne who performed heroics.

The outfield players could not get a breakthrough goal, and nor could they hold off the raiding Spaniards, and the result was a 1-0 defeat. Kelly senior, Bonner, and Given, enjoyed such longevity that they limited the opportunities available to other 'keepers.

And now, here we are, just a few months short of Euro 2016, and Given, who turns 40 on April 20, hopes to regain his fitness after injury to claim his place on the plane for the trip to France.

Candidates

Standing by, and just as keen to thwart Given, are the four musketeers - Darren Randolph, Rob Elliot, David Forde, and Kieren Westwood.

Martin O'Neill has three places to award to goalkeepers from five candidates - assuming Given can put himself realistically back in the frame.

Westwood was not called in for the games against Switzerland last night or Slovakia on Tuesday, leaving three to work hard and try to reinforce their claims on O'Neill's psyche.

Darren Randolph, who replaced Shay Given during the qualifier against Germany last October, took the unexpected opportunity in style.

O'Neill pulled a rabbit out of the hat - shades of his former gaffer Brian Clough - by calling on Darren Randolph instead of David Forde who had begun the campaign as number one goalie.

And just as Clough could pull a stunt like that and make it work, O'Neill's decision paid dividends.

Randolph made a superb save to prevent a German goal and provided an assist with a route one, accurate delivery for Shane Long to break through the cover and stick the ball in the German net.

He kept the jersey for the matches against Poland, and then the play-off games with Bosnia Herzegovina.

Last night the Wicklow native got the call to win his seventh cap. He has played just ten games for West Ham this season, five of them in the Hammers FA Cup run.

Rob Elliot, who O'Neill indicated will start on Tuesday against Slovakia, has made 22 appearances for Newcastle United, while David Forde's last of ten first-team games with Millwall was on January 14.

Between now and the end of the season, much could change, and O'Neill will not rush into making a decision on his 'keepers until his announcement of the 23 who will travel on May 28.

In the meantime Randolph wanted to make the most of his latest chance to bed in with the team.

Deflection

Solid, and occasionally a tad desperate but effective defending, meant that Randolph's main duties in the first half were concentration and communication.

He showed his delight at Ciaran Clark's third minute goal to put Ireland in the lead.

At the other end, the Irish 'keeper dealt effectively with anything that came his way in the first half, notably a 34th-minute shot by Xhaka, which took a deflection off his Swiss team-mate Seferovic.

A good save from a curling free kick by Behrami earned applause for Randolph in the 51st minute.

He had an easy pick-up from a Dzemaili header off a 66th-minute Swiss corner, but credit is due to Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark for strongly pressurising the striker.

Randolph punched clear from a 77th-minute corner to clear the danger, and had a lucky escape six minutes later when Embolo's shot trickled wide.

At the end, job done, and a clean sheet. Happy days.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport