Gavin Bazunu has been exceptional for the Ireland team under Stephen Kenny, firmly cementing his place as the Ireland number 1. From thwarting Ronaldo’s penalty to the heroics of keeping Serbia down to scoring a single goal when they might have had three or four. Under any other circumstances there wouldn’t be an argument over who should be Ireland’s number 1, but here we are in the incredibly unusual situation of having three excellent keepers.
The third choice keeper is Mark Travers, who is playing with Bournemouth in the English Championship. They are on course for automatic promotion to the Premier League, where Travers has been the best keeper in the league. And then there is Caoimhín Kelleher, currently Liverpool Fc’s number 2.
Due to injuries to Bazunu and Travers, Kelleher will start both of Ireland’s matches against Belgium and Lithuania in Dublin this week.
At the end of 2020, Kelleher became Liverpool’s Number 2 to one of the world’s best keepers Brazilian Allison Beeker. Since the Champions League game against Ajax, Kelleher has played superbly in the handful of premier league games he has started but it has been his performances in the Carabao Cup this season which have really impressed fans of Liverpool and Ireland. His penalty saves in the quarter final game against Leicester City were vital in helping Liverpool along the way to reaching the final against Chelsea, which they won 11-10 on penalties. Kelleher taking the winning penalty after making some fine saves in a 0-0 stalemate.
If Kelleher plays as well as he has done for Liverpool it is conceivable that he may become Ireland’s number 1 ahead of Bazunu.
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Such is the quality of the competition the three keepers could all be taking slots as the Number 1 over the coming years.
Stephen Kenny has said that Kelleher will start the games with James Talbot of Bohemians and Bristol City’s Max O’Leary called up as deputies. No disrespect to the two lads called up but they are not going to get any minutes unless Kelleher is injured.
Kenny said: “Caoimhín will definitely start, that’s absolutely right, for sure. He’ll most likely play the two matches now, I think it’s fair to say, and deservedly so. He’s had to be patient because of an unfortunate injury. He missed the last March camp with injury and Gavin Bazunu has come in and been absolutely outstanding.
“In Caoimhín’s two matches to date against Qatar and Hungary, he hasn’t conceded a goal either, so he deserves his chance because he’s been absolutely excellent. He has all-round qualities, really. His composure under pressure and his general athleticism, his ability to make brilliant saves.
“He’s been in a great environment at Liverpool for a few years now and training every day at a very high standard and playing in the games that he’s played in, so he’s got good experience.”
Ireland captain Séamus Coleman when asked on the goal keeper situation said: “They are humble lads (Bazunu and Kelleher) which is important, and both are very eager to have a career in the game. It’s early days for them but if they keep that mentality along with that quality they can go a long way. We’re very excited by how they train and how they play.”
One can only imagine what it must be like for Kenny trying to pick out the weakness’s and strength’s of both keepers and choosing which one to pick. It’s a good problem all the same. Ireland fans will be watching this keeper lottery for many years to come.
Words: Cahill O’Brien