Wednesday 21 August 2019

'When Mick rang, my stomach turned' - James Talbot on his journey from Ballymun Kickhams to the Ireland squad

James Talbot’s form with Bohemians has been rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland squad. Photo: Sportsfile
James Talbot’s form with Bohemians has been rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland squad. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It's a throwback to the 1950s, where the first thing a player has to arrange, after being called up to the Ireland squad, is time off work.

But the summons for Bohemians goalkeeper James Talbot to Mick McCarthy's panel this week is just like his sporting career to date - unorthodox, but refreshing all the same.

He's a player who, only months ago, was playing soccer in the Leinster Senior League as a left-back, but his main focus was on lining out in midfield for Ballymun Kickhams' U-21 side with a professional soccer career the furthest thing from his mind.

"It's an unbelievable turnaround from last year. Obviously I took a year out of the game, played about three or four months with Kickhams. To be honest, I wanted to break into their championship squad," says Talbot.

"When Mick rang me my stomach turned, I couldn't believe it, I was shocked, really. When I was told on the Saturday evening I didn't sleep a wink, to be honest, maybe a few hours.

"We trained on the Sunday. I was brutal here at training, dropping balls, my passing was off, it wasn't like me, I was so nervous my legs were jelly, my legs were heavy from not sleeping, thinking, putting myself in scenarios in the squad.

"But it's good to be nervous, it's going to be an experience I can hopefully thrive off," added the 22-year-old.

This week, Talbot will be competing to be Ireland's second choice behind Darren Randolph.

Only a few months ago, he was lost to soccer, frustrated after a spell with Sunderland to the extent that he ignored offers of trials from League of Ireland clubs, and he got his fulfilment from a run with Kickhams in the Dublin U-21 Championship.

He only agreed to play for Home Farm's LSL side on the condition that he didn't play in goal. In fact, he gave them no choice in the matter.

"I played for Home Farm in the Tommy Clements Cup in the AUL. I played left-back and where my head space was, they were happy for me to play for Kickhams as my priority," he says.

"When I rocked up, I came with boots only because John Hand (manager) and Denis O'Sullivan (chairman) were like, 'where's your gloves?' and I said 'I'm not playing in goal', I was adamant about playing left-full.

"I definitely wasn't going back to England, I spoke to a few people over there, in the Conference, and I definitely wasn't going back for that.

"For me to go into Kickhams, that was a big thing and I really wanted to push on and try to get into the championship team. They've unbelievable players - James McCarthy, John Small, the likes of them. That's what I wanted to do at first. But now this is obviously a big priority and every game I'm getting better and better."

Bohs boss Keith Long managed to sell Talbot a vision of what he was building in Phibsborough, so he agreed to sign, initially as back-up to Shane Supple.

However, when veteran Supple had to retire for medical reasons, Talbot was installed as No 1 for the Gypsies.

He took to the League of Ireland with ease, racking up a string of clean sheets as Bohs, tipped for a relegation battle, burst into the Premier Division's top three.

Talbot credits Supple, Long's staff and goalkeeping coach, Chris Bennion, with his rise, but he also remembers his roots and has praise for former Dublin captain Paddy Christie, who lured Finglas man Talbot to Ballymun Kickhams as a nine-year-old.

"Paddy is someone who I look up to," he says.

Former Sunderland team-mate John Egan has already given Talbot a sense of what to expect when he trains for the first time tomorrow.

"Straight away he texted me and said, 'I'll look after you kid'. He's a great lad."

Then there's the matter of time off work. Having just left a job with An Post as split shifts interfered with football, he's only days in to a new position, deliveries for the Grand Cru Beers, where Bohs fan Fintan 'Bodge' Kennedy assists the club in providing work for their part-time players.

"I've only started, out on the vans, with Wardy (Keith Ward) and Darragh Leahy. I must be the first person to be called up while working a job," he laughs.

Irish Independent

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