Stephen Kenny is confident Caoimhin Kelleher’s Champions League experience will stand him in good stead if he makes his senior Republic of Ireland debut in next week’s opening World Cup qualifier in Serbia.
The 22-year-old Liverpool goalkeeper could get his chance in Belgrade next Wednesday evening with number one Darren Randolph injured, and Ireland boss Kenny would have no qualms about throwing him in at the deep end, having already worked with him at under-21 level.
Kelleher has made five senior appearances for Jurgen Klopp’s side to date this season, two of them in Europe against Ajax and Midtjylland, but is currently recovering from an abdominal tear which means he will meet up with the squad on Sunday with his participation far from certain.
However, Kenny said: “Caoimhin has played 10 Under-21 internationals under me and he was brilliant, did very well.
“He’s played five games for Liverpool this year, two in the Champions League, so he’s used to big games and it won’t be an issue for him.”
Squad announced for FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers
29-player squad named for the three matches with first senior call-up for Gavin Bazunu 👏
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— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) March 18, 2021
With West Ham’s Randolph sidelined, Kenny is confident he can call upon quality but not experience, with Kelleher and Gavin Bazunu uncapped at senior level and Kieran O’Hara and Mark Travers having only two appearances each to their names.
The manager said: “That’s where we are at the moment. They’re the best goalkeepers that we have.”
Kenny has been beset by misfortune since he replaced Mick McCarthy at the helm last summer, with coronavirus protocols robbing him of key men ahead of last October’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Slovakia and injuries disrupting his plans once again.
Randolph, key defender John Egan, midfielder James McCarthy and striker Adam Idah are missing, while Kelleher, James McClean and Aaron Connolly will all be assessed when they report ahead of qualifiers against Serbia and Luxembourg, and a friendly against World Cup finals hosts Qatar.
Those absences have resulted in a first senior call-up under Kenny for Tottenham striker Troy Parrott, currently on loan at Ipswich, and a return for Shane Long, and the manager, who is yet to taste victory in eight games to date, insists he cannot bemoan his luck.
He said: “No, not really. It’s a real privilege to manage Ireland. I’m very fortunate, I realise that, it’s a great honour.”
Given the rebuilding work he is doing – 12 members of the 29-man party have emerged from age-group level during his time in the set-up – Kenny could be forgiven for looking to future qualifying campaigns.
However, he said: “You get opportunities in life and World Cup qualification is one of them, and you have to do everything you can to try to get there.
“Yes, a lot of these players for Germany 2024 will be even further along in their careers and be a lot stronger, but the focus is on the game on Wednesday.”
At the other end of the scale, experienced defender Shane Duffy will meet up having lost his place at Celtic, where he is on loan from Brighton, but with words of comfort from his international manager.
Kenny said: “Shane Duffy has never let Ireland down. He puts everything on the line for Ireland continually and we shouldn’t forget that just because he has had a tough time.”
Republic of Ireland squad: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Kieran O’Hara (Burton), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham), Shane Duffy (Celtic, on loan from Brighton), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Kevin Long (Burnley), Ciaran Clark (Newcastle), Dara O’Shea (West Brom), Ryan Manning (Swansea), Cyrus Christie (Nottingham Forest, on loan from Fulham), Conor Hourihane (Swansea, on loan from Aston Villa), Alan Browne (Preston), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle), Jayson Molumby (Preston, on loan from Brighton), Jason Knight (Derby), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Robbie Brady (Burnley), James McClean (Stoke), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Callum Robinson (West Brom), Aaron Connolly (Brighton), Shane Long (Bournemouth, on loan from Southampton), James Collins (Luton), Troy Parrott (Ipswich, on loan from Tottenham).