Sunday 25 August 2019

Kelleher standing on brink of life-changing opportunity at Anfield

Caoimhin Kelleher could start against Southampton
Caoimhin Kelleher could start against Southampton
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

He was on the pitch in Anfield after the heroic comeback against Barcelona that made Liverpool's Champions League dream possible.

And, as a full member of the squad, he was part of the medal and trophy ceremony in Madrid that confirmed the Reds' new status as the champions of Europe.

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But the game with the potential to be truly significant in the career of Caoimhin Kelleher takes place in Istanbul tonight.

Bad fortune has prevented the young Irishman from truly seizing the opportunity.

He was arguably fortunate to be in the middle of the European celebrations and memories that will last a lifetime given that he didn't see a minute's action on the road to glory - although the goalkeepers union would always argue that the reserves have a role to play behind the scenes to help the main man.

Luck deserted Kelleher when Alisson's unfortunate calf injury last Friday opened a massive window of opportunity for the 20-year-old.

With Simon Mignolet having departed, Jurgen Klopp has turned to ex-West Ham goalkeeper Adrian as his back-up for the year ahead. A competent operator, but no star.

Kelleher is clearly well regarded by the Anfield authorities and with Adrian set to take the gloves for between six to eight weeks, this is an opportunity for the Irishman to put pressure on an opponent he can realistically threaten at this stage of his development. As the next in line, all it takes is one twist of fate to change the course of a career.

The problem for Kelleher is a pre-season wrist injury that has left him playing catch-up at the wrong time.

It presented Liverpool with a problem, especially with the transfer window closed.

With options limited, Klopp is now offering a deal to Andy Lonergan, a 35-year-old journeyman - with Irish links - who has spent most of his career in the lower leagues.

Lonergan was invited to be part of pre-season preparations and his old pal Kevin Kilbane spoke earlier this week about how that experience had opened the veteran's eyes to the levels at the top end of the game.

By all accounts, he's lost weight because of the intensity of Liverpool's preparations.

Now that he's got a contract, it's plausible he will be viewed as the safe pair of hands behind Adrian in the pecking order, even if Kelleher returns to full fitness.

It was the injury to Kelleher that ultimately forced Klopp's hand when it came to actually signing Lonergan up on a full-time basis.

"At the moment when Caoimhin is back then obviously Adrian is No 1, Caoimhin probably No 2. But we have to see how then he can have some games with the U-23s or U-21s so that he gets match practice as well," Klopp said.

"Caoimhin is now in his final steps for being completely back. He's training only five days or so, catching balls and all that stuff, it looks all good but of course we have to find a solution in the short term and that will be Andy Lonergan."

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It's a tough break for Kelleher, a popular character from a talented sporting family. He's the youngest of six kids, and ability runs through the genes. His brother Fiacre is at Macclesfield Town having started his career with Celtic.

There is sadness in his story as his father Ray, a key mentor throughout his development at Ringmahon Rangers, passed away suddenly in 2014. It was he who had actually recommended that his son switch from striker to goalkeeper.

Those are the life experiences that give people perspective.

And Kelleher will have noted the words of Klopp, who referenced how the modern keeper can keep playing until they are 40.

Kelleher is very much at the start of a long road but, at the elite clubs, there is sometimes a narrow window for an individual to find the fast lane.

With two journeymen ahead of him until Alisson's recovery, Kelleher should have a renewed focus now that he's back in business. Tonight came too soon, but the weeks ahead may just have life-changing potential.

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