Shamrock Rovers can take plenty of credit for helping Gavin Bazunu attain his current status as Republic of Ireland starter, three games not out, and Manchester City goalkeeper (almost certainly, he will be loaned out again next season).
Bazunu does not look 19 years-old, nor does he carry himself like a teenager, and that has been the case for as far back as the Rovers cognoscenti can remember.
"When the first shot went in we were nervous for him," Shane Robinson, the club's academy director, told The Irish Times about Bazunu's debut against Luxembourg last March.
“The academy had never had someone who played for the first team and gone on to be capped at international level. I think the commentator said it was a nice easy one but it hopped right in front of him, and he killed it.”
Relief crashed over Robinson and the tightly knit Rovers management, led by sporting director Stephen McPhail, as they did more than simply nurture this exceptional talent from Firhouse. The club also shelled out €6,500 to allow Bazunu complete his Leaving Certificate as he was making the transition from Tallaght to Manchester.
“How he dealt with the occasion was the same as how he dealt with his debut for our Under-15s, Under-17s, Under-19s,” Robinson elaborated. “That calming presence, no matter what team he plays with, is there. So defenders trust him.”
“I suppose most of it comes from the fact I’ve been training at a first team level from such a young age. I was in training with the Shamrock Rovers first team from the age of 14 so being around the first team dressing room for that period gave me the confidence and understanding of how to speak to your teammates and what’s needed from a goalkeeper.
“I understand what the experienced players and the older players in the team want from a goalkeeper. They just want to know that there’s someone behind them who has the confidence to be able tell them where to be and when to be [there].”
Of course, goalkeeping is a perilous profession. Andorra centre half Marc Vales came far too close to joining Gerson Rodrigues as a name that will haunt the current Ireland player until their number is called decades from now. Neither goal has been laid at Bazunu’s feet, but he was still asked if an internal inquest had taken place around how a centre half, playing in the second tier of Norwegian football, was allowed ghost into the box and plant a free header.
“No, not really,” Bazunu replied. “It was disappointing to concede - it shouldn’t have really happened - but we had a lot of good things in the game and if we keep focusing on them we have a really good chance of improving as a team.”
He was prodded some more about his positioning despite the blame appearing to lie squarely with James McClean losing Vales.
“If I had a deeper position I might have had more of a chance to save the goal but my opinion on it is I am going to be as aggressive as possible to stop any potential cross.
“Like, there was another cross I came out for in the game and I don’t think I would have been able to come for it if I wasn’t as aggressive.
“I am definitely going to learn from it and the other lads will look back on it and see what they can improve on, but there were a lot of positives to take from the game.”
Such pragmatism, mixed with his imposing frame and commanding voice on the pitch, makes it easy to see why defenders will trust him in the coming seasons, especially if he manages to dislodge Ederson, the most expensive goalkeeper on the planet with a current valuation of €100 million.
“I wouldn’t have gone to Manchester City unless I thought I could be the number one goalkeeper,” said Bazunu. “Every day, that’s what I work towards. That’s the goal.”
It would be another surprise - like all Bazunu’s moves to date - if Stephen Kenny gives him a fourth consecutive start for Ireland against Hungary tomorrow, mainly because 22 year-old Liverpool reserve Caoimhín Kelleher is still hunting a first cap.
But come September, if he is appearing regularly for whatever club City believe will play their possession-based style, it is plausible that Darren Randolph will be bumped from the number one slot.
“I am open to going anywhere which will help aid my progression as a footballer,” said Bazunu. “That decision isn’t up to me. In my personal opinion, it was a brilliant experience for me [to play for Rochdale last season], to get out and play so many games.
“There were situations where I had to make a lot of saves or had a lot of the ball. I feel I improved with every game and had a lot to learn. My opinion is that game time is very important.”