If the selection of a fourth-choice goalkeeper is the biggest controversy Stephen Kenny encounters this year, then sleepless nights will be in short supply.
f course, Darren Randolph has said that his continued exclusion from the squad for this week’s double-header with Belgium and Lithuania is no big deal.
When Randolph replied to an FAI Instagram post flagging the call-up of Bohemians’ James Talbot to deputise for the injured Gavin Bazunu, with the message – “I haven’t retired yet, I must be too old” – it inevitably drew attention.
He later clarified that it was only ‘banter’ after a mixture of responses, ranging from support to pointed queries about why he hasn’t played a competitive first-team match in ten months.
Maybe it was just a bit of fun, although a 34-year-old senior professional, wise to the ways of the game, should probably have known that a post on a high-profile forum would draw attention.
Randolph, who has dropped from second to third choice with his club, has played just four games for West Ham since his last Irish appearance in November 2020 at the end of a turbulent international window that will probably always be remembered for the ‘videogate’ saga , and the subsequent departures of Alan Kelly and Damien Duff. It’s now highly unlikely that Randolph will return to add to his 50 caps.
The fact that Kenny turned to Bristol City’s Max O’Leary when an illness took Gavin Bazunu out of his plans would appear to confirm as much. At best, Randolph is sixth choice and even that’s far from a certainty.
It’s not quite that straightforward, though. Perhaps if Ireland were playing a crunch qualifying encounter this week, there would be a different response to the mini-crisis in the netminding department.
But with the future of Irish goalkeeping safe with the emergence of Bazunu, Caoimhín Kelleher and Mark Travers, then it’s probably better for Kenny to keep up the morale of the younger players he rates down the pecking order, in case an emergency pops up further down the line.
Regrettably, Randolph’s recent injury and appearance record casts doubt on how much longer he’ll be available for as an SOS call.
It could be argued that he hasn’t helped himself from an Irish perspective. Last summer, Kenny did name Randolph in his squad for the training camp and friends with Andorra and Hungary. Travers missed out as Kenny spoke of the possible competition between Randolph, Bazunu and Kelleher. The Bray man had emerged from cold storage to figure in West Ham’s league win away at West Brom in May.
He didn’t report for the camp, though. Kenny publicly said he had no issue with it, with a hip injury cited – and the indications were that Randolph wanted to mind his body with a view to securing new employment.
That’s understandable, yet it must be noted that Séamus Coleman came away with the group, even though he had no chance of playing. Dropping in briefly might have allowed Randolph to be positioned as a mentor to what he (on Instagram) described as the ‘worldie’ netminders emerging, but he chose to prioritize his club issues.
Unfortunately, a failure to secure a move before September defeated the purpose of that. Ireland’s World Cup qualifying trip to Portugal overlapped with the end of the transfer window and the chat was that something was happening with Randolph, hence he was out of the loop. Nothing happened.
In January, it looked as though Randolph would depart for pastures new, with his prospects clearly limited. But the UK Daily Mail – which has had the inside track on Randolph’s movements in recent years – reported in January that a switch to Aston Villa was off the cards, as David Moyes wanted him to stay at the club.
The report even speculated that a new contract might be offered. “I have no intention of letting Darren go, we have had no offer,” said Moyes the following day. “All we received was a loan. I can’t see why I would ever let Darren Randolph go on loan.”
Randolph’s fondness for London was a factor in his decision to leave first-choice action at Middlesbrough to return to West Ham.
Back-up keepers, who settle for this existence, always open themselves to grief, yet critics tend to find the high moral ground when a lot of people would be attracted by the opportunity to live in a nicer place and earn more money. Walk a mile in his shoes and all of that.
However, there was always the chance it might impact on his international standing. Jeff Hendrick (QPR) and Conor Hourihane (Sheffield United) have dropped down a division on loan for regular football. Maybe Randolph wanted to do that, and West Ham put a stop to it – but it weakens his Irish case.
He did the hard yards in his younger years, traveling around Europe for matches without getting a sniff. Shay Given’s injury in the Euros qualifier with Germany in October 2015 was the sliding-doors moment that allowed Randolph to take center stage, and he never let his country down. But that alone isn’t enough to justify a recall to the Ireland set-up, when his own decisions have allowed him to slip out of sight and mind.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/international-soccer/why-stephen-kenny-doesnt-pick-darren-randolph-anymore-goalkeepers-decisions-havent-helped-his-irish-cause-41484909.html Why Stephen Kenny doesn’t pick Darren Randolph anymore – goalkeeper’s decisions haven’t helped his Irish cause