Caoimhín Kelleher ‘in a good position’ to change goalkeeping hierarchy

Bazunu’s misfortune offers Liverpool man a chance to impress against Belgium

Caoimhín Kelleher in Republic of Ireland training. Stephen Kenny has previously said it is beautiful to watch him. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Besides the friendly collie who invaded Ireland’s Thursday press conference, it has been a flat, scandal-free build-up to the visit of a Belgium squad only half interested in the FAI’s centenary celebrations at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.

These being the weeks and months when excitement begins to build around qualified nations for the November World Cup in Qatar, at least the best “number two goalie” on the planet will present himself before an expected full house.

Alongside Belgium resting their Champions League glitterati, Ireland have their own withdrawals as arguably the spine of the team for the next decade – Adam Idah, Andrew Omobamidele and Gavin Bazunu – are laid low by injury and illness.

This does provide an opportunity for the man who might already be king, if given the opportunity to save a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty last September. In all likelihood, Caoimhín Kelleher would have etched his no-nonsense Cork demeanour into the public conscious had he, rather than Bazunu, denied Ronaldo on the Algarve before producing a level of dexterity against Serbia that Shay Given only managed in a handful of his 134 caps.


With Mark Travers forced back to Bournemouth earlier this week, where the 22-year-old has been in superb form, the scene is set for Kelleher to unveil what anyone watching the Carabao Cup already knows; the Irish management has a real problem on their plate over the next 15 years.

Bazunu or Kelleher, Kelleher or Travers, Bazunu or Travers are all legitimate debates at the midway point of superlative drenched campaigns for goalkeepers that are separated by three tiers of English football.

“Alisson Becker is the best goalie in the world for me,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after Kelleher thumped home the winning penalty against Chelsea to secure the league cup in February. “There are other good goalkeepers out there but this goalie is absolutely insane. But, to be honest, for me, Caoimhín Kelleher is the best number-two goalie in the world.”

Lavish and welcome praise from the 23-year-old’s manager, but there is growing evidence that when these words rung true, Klopp will need to make a decision. Alisson is only 29, so the only way Kelleher can really enhance an already established reputation as a spectacular shot stopper and competent ball player, is on the international stage.

This starts with a clean sheet as 51,700 fans lose their mind over saves comparable to Bazunu against Serbia last year or Jean-Marie Pfaff’s stellar interventions when Belgium visited Lansdowne Road in 1987. Because nothing short of supreme excellence can ignite an inevitable debate about Kelleher or Bazunu.

“Caoimhín is in a good position now, he needed a bit of luck,” said Shane Duffy, the Brighton pillar cemented in front of recent Irish goalkeepers. “Gavin has performed unbelievably for us and he’s going to be missed but football is about taking chances. Hopefully Caoimhín will come in and do what he does for Liverpool. We are a bit lucky in that position.”

With Lithuania to follow next Tuesday, Kelleher has 180 minutes to turn the tables on Bazunu, who may return for the Nations League in June demoted to number two in a saga that has only just begun.

Stephen Kenny on the Ireland goalkeepers . . .


“Caoimhín, you would never underestimate him, he played for me on the under-21 team in 10 of the 12 internationals. He was the one who played most for me. He is laconic, very laid back and nearly makes goalkeeping an art form. It is beautiful to watch him. Aesthetically, he is amazing to watch, and I don’t think I have ever said that about a goalkeeper. Such style and composure under pressure.”


“Mark would have been a pro-golfer had he not been a goalkeeper. He was brilliant apparently. He has that temperament, he is so consistent. He has a massive frame at 6ft 4in or 6ft 5in. He is difficult to beat, he is athletic. He has improved with his feet and that was a criticism. It was not that he was bad with his feet, it was just that the other two were just so exceptional and he wasn’t as good with his distribution. So he has definitely improved this.”


“When you meet Gavin for the first time in a group, he is a leader and has leadership qualities. He is just someone who carries himself with this sort of aura, he would have done well in life whatever he had done. He has a presence, a sort of unflappable nature that is incredible for one so young. He has obvious inbuilt character traits that give you the capacity to give away a penalty but then save it in the same vein.”