Darren Randolph: ‘I don’t care how we play as long as we win’
Ireland No 1 knows victory, and his place, over Georgia can’t be taken for granted
Ireland v Georgia: Darren Randolph knows the return of Rob Elliot (right) has added to manager Martin O’Neill’s goalkeeping options. Photograph: Garry Carr/Inpho
Darren Randolph denies having left West Ham in order to preserve his status as Ireland number one, but as the squad travelled to Tbilisi for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier the 30 year-old knows there is added pressure for his position, with Rob Elliot’s return having added to Martin O’Neill’s goalkeeping options over the tail end of the campaign.
O’Neill was dismissive when the possibility of replacing Randolph with Keiren Westwood was raised in the run up to the Austria game at the start of the summer. The Wicklowman had lost his place at West Ham as the team struggled, the manager came under pressure, and he made a couple of mistakes, but his future at the club looked secure, as he did enough to trigger a contract extension.
When the club turned their attention to signing Joe Hart the Irishman knew he was in for a prolonged spell on the bench, and with Westwood continuing to play well at Sheffield Wednesday, and Elliot fit again and suddenly playing in the Premier League, he realised that was going leave him vulnerable on the international front too.
We had a good cup run, so I was getting a few games in between the Irish games. I couldn’t do that for a whole season and expect to play
In the end, he admits, his Ireland place was a factor, although he was primarily concerned with playing on a week-to-week basis at club level.
“I just wanted to play,” he says, although “I can’t expect to play here if I’m not playing at a club. I got away with it before for a few months at West Ham, [but] we had a good cup run, so I was getting a few games in between the Irish games. I couldn’t do that for a whole season and expect to play.”
Ironically, Newcastle was one of a number of clubs that expressed an interest in signing him, which might well have affected Elliot’s future there had it come to pass, but Middlesbrough had inquired at the end of last season, and when Randolph resolved to get out quickly after Hart’s impending arrival was confirmed, Garry Monk was ready and waiting.
Premier League path
In one sense, of course, it is a step back for a man who had patiently plotted his path to the Premier League over quite a few seasons, but it is one that he believes has the potential to get him moving forward again soon. In the meantime things have started well, and the 30-year-old believes he has arrived in the northeast a better player thanks to the experience he has already had of top-flight soccer during the past couple of years.
“The more games you play at the higher level, the more confidence you gain,” he says. “You learn more about yourself and football. You can have the best week’s training you want and still go out and lose the game and not play well. You can have the worst week’s training and go out and be unbelievable. Every day and every game is different. Whatever happens happens.”
Randolph rejects the suggestion that West Ham’s move for Hart suggests they felt he hadn’t quite cut it – clearly there would have been a particular attraction about signing an England international – and says he remains confident about his own abilities.
“I’ve been there, done it,” he says with a grin. “I know how good I am. So I’ll just move on, carry on again and keep enjoying life.”
How enjoyable this particular weekend is pretty much comes down to whether Ireland, now reckoned to be at full strength after Jon Walters trained on Thursday, win in Tbilisi – something, he admits, that cannot be taken entirely for granted.
“In football you come up against some so-called smaller teams and everyone thinks it’s a walk in the park, but those games a lot of the time are the hardest games. You see big teams go places and lose, and it’s a massive upset.
“Having been on the ‘smaller team’ in many games, you tend to raise your game against the bigger teams and make it difficult, and a lot of the time it can be just the odd goal that separates teams.”
You tend to raise your game against the bigger teams and make it difficult, and a lot of the time it can be just the odd goal that separates teams
That is pretty much how it has gone between these two in previous meetings, and Randolph will be more than happy to see Ireland scrap their way to another narrow victory.
“I’d love a quiet game and just get the three points, especially at this stage of the group. I don’t care how we play as long as we can get the win. It can be a difficult place to go.
That said, he continues, “In the last group of the Euros and the friendlies we’ve had, we’ve competed against the bigger teams and the big players. We’ve got no reason we shouldn’t be confident going out there.
“I’m not saying you just go into the games thinking it’s going to be easy. You know it’s going to be tough, and you have to do the horrible things, the dirty stuff first, and hopefully the quality comes off the back of that. As long as we’re prepared to do that, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t come out on top.”