Monday 21 January 2019

World Cup remains on the radar for Randolph

Bray keeper hasn't let Danish disappointment burst his ultimate dream as he enjoys life at Boro

Darren Randolph of Republic of Ireland during squad training at NY Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Sportsfile
Darren Randolph of Republic of Ireland during squad training at NY Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey, USA. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

There is a dog in the reception area of Middlesbrough's training ground. A blue Staffordshire bull terrier - yes blue - Skye is fed, fussed over and walked, or pulling on a strained leash, around the first floor offices and the grounds of Rockcliffe Hall while his owner works and plays.

The Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson appears from the canteen, armed with a sausage. But he is warned off by the handful of staff who are Skye's carers for the day. "What sort of dog can't have a sausage?" asks Gibson, nephew of club owner Steve, as he is ushered away from the very excitable animal. He waves his arms and the sausage in the air before disappearing to an afternoon of yoga with Tony Pulis in the gym. "The game's gone, mate," he says.

Skye's owner appears a few minutes later. He is carrying a very green smoothie, full of fruit, veg and honey. Skye can't have that either but when he clocks the Middlesbrough and Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph behind the desk, she jumps up and gets a collective 'aw' from their audience. The Bray man explains: "She's eight now, I've had her since she was six weeks old, and she is just full of energy so if I see an opportunity to burn some off, I grab it. If I don't bring her in, I get complaints and then when she comes in, no one can believe how much energy she's got.

"Sometimes I'll put her in the car and bring her here to tire her out because she'll just tear round here all day. She was following me around this morning so I thought you can just come with me. In the back of my head, I'm thinking, you'll be tired when we get home so I can get a bit of peace and quiet. I don't have to play tug-of-war, throw a ball, or pull the stick about and go out for two hours now. We can keep it to one hour!"

When I inform Randolph of the incident with the centre-back and his sausage, he is amused but not surprised. "She can't have any treats," he says. "She has to have a special Science Plan dog-food diet, or other than that, I can only give her sardines. She had an ulcer in her intestine when she was younger and her stomach can't handle anything else. So, they can give her a sausage while she's here if they want, but I've told them, everything turns to water inside and she'll end up spraying shit up the walls. I don't fancy cleaning that up. And I don't suppose Gibbo would either!

"The manager has seen Skye running round reception since he has been here and he has not told me to keep her at home yet but Kempy (Dave Kemp, Pulis's assistant) is a huge lover of dogs and the first time I brought her in, he was sat in the corner of the room with her for ages, so happy days."

Like her owner, Skye has already made an impression on Boro's new management team and kept five of his 17 Middlesbrough clean sheets under Pulis in his 14 games in charge.

Pulis was brought in by Steve Gibson on St Stephen's Day to replace Garry Monk, the manager who signed Randolph for £5m from West Ham in the summer. With Boro's promotion campaign floundering, the former Stoke boss was finally lured to Teesside to bring an immediate Premier League return. Like many at a club determined to make up for lost time in and out of the top flight, Randolph has taken to the former Stoke boss.

"He has been good so far,' says the 30-year-old. "He is energetic and charismatic and from the first day we knew what he wanted. He came in to work and get results and he had a job to do. I think everyone has reacted pretty well to him and how he wants us to play. He pretty much leaves us with the goalkeeping coach but he will call me over when he wants to work on shape, then tells me what to do and what not to do. I go and do it, which is fine.

"We are putting together a little late run, which one team does every year. We knew how tough this division would be and it is hard to maintain a run for a full season but if we can keep it going we can get a foot in the play-offs. This is a weird division but it has been even weirder for us all season. The longest run is three wins on the bounce and it is strange in itself to only manage that and still be in the top six because normally you'd be middle to bottom half of the table.

"We know we have drawn or lost too many and we know we have let ourselves down at certain times. No one else has taken us apart and beaten us, we have mostly beaten ourselves and made it hard and that is frustrating. But, we are still in there and who knows what's going to happen in this league this year."

Randolph left West Ham and the Premier League in June to preserve his Ireland place in World Cup year. The irony of leaving the club in the wake of Joe Hart's loan move to a West Ham, then managed by Slaven Bilic, for the Englishman's own World Cup interests is not lost on him. David Moyes ditched Hart and Adrian is now Hammers' number one. Randolph doesn't care.

"That is not my problem anymore. I still look for out for West Ham's results, same as I look out for Birmingham, Motherwell and Charlton, any club I played for, and still speak to some of the players. But I moved for me, for a specific task, so I am just fully focused on being here and getting back in the Premier League.

"I wanted to get to the World Cup. We had a chance of getting there so I needed to play and that was not going to happen if I stayed, or I couldn't see it happening. You never have a crystal ball so I couldn't see Joe not playing and then thinking, 'that could have been me'. If I had stayed, it could have been the total opposite, you never know.

"I did what was best for me. Everyone else was doing what was best for them, so I thought, for once, I am going to put myself first. Normally I am quite laid back and go with the flow but I got to a stage where I wanted to be where I had got to and I was going to look after myself. We were on pre-season in Austria and I think the manager was sick of seeing me because I went to see him about six times in two days. But I just wanted to go and play. Absolutely no regrets. I love it here."

Randolph, who has played at every level from under 15 for Ireland, has been looking after number one since he joined Charlton, aged 16, after trials with all the usual Irish candidates. Loans with Welling, Accrington, Gillingham, Bury and Hereford followed before he made his debut four years later in Robbie Fowler's final Liverpool game at Anfield.

When Charlton slid from the Premier League to League One, Randolph moved to Motherwell, where he earned his first senior Ireland call-up in 2011. It would be plenty of call-ups but another 18 months before he made his debut against Oman. He missed one game in two seasons with Birmingham before joining West Ham in 2015 on a free transfer.

And once he had established himself as a first-choice Premier League keeper, playing in the final game at Upton Park, Randolph was Ireland number one. Two years ago he replaced the injured Shay Given in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany and he has been in goal for his country ever since.

He will, however, sit out the upcoming trip to Turkey. As Martin O'Neill's guaranteed first choice for the forthcoming UEFA tournaments, Randolph has reluctantly agreed to stay at home and allow his deputies to travel and train for the start in Antalya. He will rest, if Skye allows it. "I have played under him for the least three years so he knows what I am about and it is a chance now to call in some of the younger players, who have not had much experience, and give them a taste and see how they cope.

"He can gauge where they are and having been in the squad for so many years before actually playing, I know what it is to want the friendlies to come around because you might get a game. I am not going to tell you how long I have felt number one, but yes I do. I focus on myself. That is how I am in general, if it doesn't include me, I am quite selfish. I am not interested in other players' careers or how they are doing because I can't affect it."

Like the majority of the Ireland squad, Randolph had no time to grieve the World Cup exit to Denmark because he has played nearly two games a week ever since in the Championship. The 5-1 humiliation might hit him in the summer, though. Might.

"The last time we conceded that many was against Germany, and after such a good first leg in Copenhagen, it was only 2-1 at half-time, so you always hold that hope. But then, three, four, five. That was it. Done. And to know you are only one game away from the World Cup, which is the dream of every footballer . . .

"I didn't watch the draw because we weren't in it. I asked [Danish clubmate]Martin Braithwaite who they'd got but it went in one ear and out the other. I still couldn't tell you who Denmark have. It's not us, doesn't matter. It might hit in the summer, if I choose to watch it. I might wait 'til the quarter-finals but I don't watch much football anyway so I won't be watching all the group games, only certain countries, maybe. Why? Because football is my job and I do it everyday. I don't really care about the World Cup, especially on my holidays, but because we are not there. I am not in there, so I don't care.

"I got to play at the Euros, which was another dream ticked off the list. The World Cup is pretty much the only one to play in. They only come round every four years and I am aiming for 40. It is doable and I would like to get in at least one World Cup in the next ten years."

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