Saturday 25 November 2017

'Playing for Ireland not the most important thing'

Darren Randolph's topsy-turvy career is on upward curve, writes Seán Ryan

C UP football has been good to Darren Randolph this season, so the former Republic of Ireland B goalkeeper is hoping that trend continues this afternoon when he lines out for Motherwell away to Dundee in a fourth round Scottish FA Cup tie.

"We're in the semi-finals of the CIS Cup against Rangers at Hampden Park on January 30, and if we can beat Dundee it will give us the confidence boost we need to get back to the form we showed early in the season," he reasons.

The Christmas fixture list wasn't kind to a team which was manager-less after the departure of Craig Brown to Aberdeen. "We played Celtic, Rangers and Hearts and, with no manager, we didn't know what was going on. Three defeats dropped us back to sixth, but with a couple of wins we could be back up the table again."

There is something about the Cup that brings out the best in the young Bray lad -- and also some undeserved headlines.

"When I was on loan at Hereford a few seasons ago, we were due to play Dagenham and Redbridge in the first round of the Cup," he recalls. "I went home on the Friday and saw on the TV that Hereford had signed a goalie. I asked around and everybody advised me not to play because I'd be Cup-tied, but the way it came out I was made to look the bad guy, and that was the loan finished. The manager had his say, but I didn't get into a slagging match with him.

"I went back to Charlton and, as it turned out, our goalkeeper was injured and I played at Norwich in the FA Cup third round and we won 1-0, not having won for 18 games. I played a few more games in the Championship, and then I was injured, and we were relegated at the end of the season."

By his reckoning, Darren has played in every division in England, plus the Conference, having made his debut in the Premier League for Charlton at Anfield in the last game of the 2006-'07 season. "It was the day after I had turned 20 against my dad's team and they were all there, from Bray and from Mayo, where my mother Anne is from.

"I remember it as though it was yesterday, especially the day before in the hotel, when I was so nervous and couldn't get to sleep, then arriving at the ground and thinking, 'is this really happening?' But once I went out for the warm-up, the nerves went and I just wanted to play.

"It went very well and we drew 2-2, only conceding the equaliser in stoppage time from a penalty. I remember, too, that it was Robbie Fowler's last game for Liverpool, and when he went off Harry Kewell came on and he took the penalty."

Before his Premier debut, Randolph had won a Conference medal on loan to Accrington Stanley, and had played League One and Two football on loan with Gillingham and Bury.

As a schoolboy with Ardmore Rovers, Darren, whose father Ed was one of the first American imports to Irish basketball, divided his time between soccer and basketball. "From Monday to Sunday it was one or the other. I travelled around with Ireland at basketball, playing in the European Championships, but once Charlton wanted to sign me I made the decision to go with soccer because I had more chance to get somewhere as I was never going to play in the NBA."

At The Valley, manager Alan Curbishley took a shine to him and, within months, he was training with the first team. "I got to see what it's all about and how serious people took it. It makes you realise quickly what needs to be done."

He spent seven years with Charlton, of which he says: "The first four years I was flying, then I spent two seasons at a standstill, and the last season I started playing again." His last game resulted in a penalty shoot-out loss to Swindon in the semi-final of the League One play-offs last May.

"The club offered me another contract, but I needed to play, so I felt I needed a change. My agent talked to a number of clubs through the summer with a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, but Motherwell said 'we've seen him and we want him for the first team', so I signed, and I've played every minute of every game since I came here. That started with the Europa League in July and August. We beat a team from Iceland, then a team from Norway and lost to Odense. It was a whole new experience, which I would never have got with Charlton.

"I have always been a confident player and obviously playing early in the season in Europe and beating teams gives the whole team more confidence. After about 10 games we were third in the table, and that's what we've got to get back to. Stuart McCall came in to see us after the Celtic game and his first game in charge was against Hamilton, which we drew 0-0, but this is our first proper week training with him and it's been enjoyable."

A lot of Motherwell's early success was due to Randolph's inspired form, and from nearly 30 games he has 10 clean sheets to his credit. "There were a few games where I had nothing to do," he admits, adding: "I'll give the defenders two of those clean sheets, and the rest to me."

On a three-year deal, life is more settled than those seasons he spent wandering the country on loan. "I saw different managers, different personalities. Some would give team talks quietly and didn't want to offend players, and there were others who ranted and raved, went crazy, threw cups and boots. It was all valuable experience, so you learn how to take it, and you grow yourself."

Route One, or play from the back, is a tactical choice which starts with the goalkeeper, or does it? "The way football is played in Ireland, England and Scotland is more physical and gives players less time on the ball than in, say, Italy. Some managers try to adopt a tactic of playing from the back, but I've never played for a manager who did, so I always kick long.

"Route one can still be very effective, and some teams do it very well."

Having played at every level from under 15 to B with the Republic of Ireland, his experience was that "sometimes we got time to play from the back, but it depended on the circumstances."

While his ambition is to play for Ireland at senior level -- he was on the bench in San Marino in 2007 -- Darren is clear about his priorities: "Playing for Ireland is not the most important thing at the minute. Playing club football is, and if the call comes, it comes."

Dundee v Motherwell,

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