Football

Will Stephen Kenny Make A Big Goalkeeping Change In March?

Will Stephen Kenny Make A Big Goalkeeping Change In March?

It may be less than 12 months into the Stephen Kenny era, but the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign already feels like a potentially decisive period.

That is perhaps unfair. The former Dundalk manager had an incredible run of bad luck late last year in terms of injuries and unfortunate results, something that has to be taken into account when discussing his time in charge up until this point.

While it would certainly be premature to make any definitive judgements about his ability to lead the country in the long-term, improvements will be needed over the course of 2021. Eight games without a win is never acceptable, with the lack of goals the main issue. This is where Kenny's primary concerns will lie, but we could well see changes in other areas of the pitch as well.

The goalkeeping position is certainly one worth discussing.

Darren Randolph has been a fantastic servant to Ireland over the past half decade or so, but one can't help but feel his time as the nation's number one could be coming to an end. This is not down to his performances at international level, having never let the team down.

Instead, a natural evolution could be taking place.

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Randolph is now 33-years old, not necessarily a huge issue in itself for a player in his position. What is more concerning is that he has hardly featured at club level this year. The Bray native has made five appearances in all competitions for West Ham, with only two of those coming after September.

That has to be in Stephen Kenny's thinking ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in March, with Ireland set to visit Serbia before hosting Luxembourg a few days later. Considering his age and lack of playing time, Randolph's place in the team is no longer certain.

Kenny has even hinted at this as far back as last November, saying that Caoimhin Kelleher could have made his way into the team already had he been playing more consistently at club level.

Caoimhin Kelleher was exceptional for the U21s. In training, Alan Kelly our goalkeeping coach can't believe how good Caoimhin Kelleher is. He hadn't appreciated that he was actually as good as that.

We really need to see Caoimhin Kelleher get matches under his belt, because he is ready to play for us. We feel he is good enough to play for Ireland, but he's not playing matches so it's an issue.

He was supposed to go on loan to Holland in the last window in the Eredivisie. When the goalkeeper at Liverpool [Alisson Becker] got injured, that move was pulled on him then.

He wanted to go on loan, he was ready to play. We certainly would have benefitted from that.

Since those comments were made, Kelleher has gone on to make his Premier League and Champions League debut for Liverpool. He has excelled whilst doing so, leading to speculation that Kenny may finally give him the reins with Ireland as well.

It would be a move that makes sense in a number of ways. The Cork man is brilliant with the ball at his feet, something that is a huge bonus in the Ireland manager's system.

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For all of Randolph's excellent qualities, that is perhaps the one thing he can struggle with. The game in Finland was the prime example, with his wayward pass handing the home side the only goal of the game.

The gap in shot-stopping ability between the pair is also not as wide as it once was.

Kelleher has certainly made huge strides in that area over the last 18 months or so, making some brilliant saved during his five Liverpool appearances this season.

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This is not a straightforward decision by any means.

Darren Randolph has been a brilliant player for Ireland, but Stephen Kenny has shown he is willing to make some major changes. The selection of Matt Doherty ahead of Seamus Coleman at right back is the prime example, while he has also given a number of players their international debuts.

A game in Belgrade would certainly be a baptism of fire, but Kelleher has shown that he is not phased by the big occasion.

If Stephen Kenny is to really make this team his own, this seems like the next logical step.

SEE ALSO: Who Will Start At Centre Back For Ireland In World Cup Qualifying Opener?

Gary Connaughton

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