Caoimhín Kelleher can grab the rarest of chances for Irish players at Anfield

Caoimhín Kelleher can grab the rarest of chances for Irish players at Anfield
Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland U21 training session. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IT'S hard to put into words just how difficult it is to play for Liverpool Football Club.

For any kids reading this column, keep going, keep striving for it if that is your dream but it is almost impossible. Sorry!

It is almost impossible because Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in world football. Their resources allow them to scout and then sign some of the most highly rated footballers on the planet to come in and play for their academy sides or their first team.

It is certainly almost impossible at the moment because that aforementioned first team are the Champions of Europe and have some of the world’s most elite footballers occupying positions in their first eleven.

But Jürgen Klopp is a coach that likes to give young players a chance although - as his assistant manager Pep Lijnders alluded to at a press conference recently - he also likes to work with a small squad.

“We consciously decided to have a small squad, because we want to promote young players and we want to create this culture,” he told reporters.

“If you create a big squad it will not happen, if you create a squad with talent around, these talents will get opportunities.

“That’s also really important to understand, we are creating a new generation, and we try to create a new generation. I think it’s really important to have an inside pathway to promote young players, to give them opportunities.” 

The keyword mentioned is talent. It’s not just about bringing in young players for the sake of it, it is about giving young players the chance to show that they can challenge and maybe earn a place in the side ahead of some world-class names and some high earners.

“I don't believe in just giving opportunities, it has to be the right opportunity at the right time with the right players,” Lijnders added.

And that is what makes Caoimhín Kelleher's debut for the Merseyside giants away to MK Dons in the third round of the Carabao Cup all the more impressive. He has achieved the almost impossible.

Whatever happens from here, whether he takes over for £66.8 million signing Alisson Becker between the sticks for Liverpool one day or whether he re-joins Ringmahon Rangers as the striker - which he had originally signed for them as - nobody can ever take that competitive debut away from him.

Nobody can ever take away from the fact that he has become the first Cork man to ever wear the famous Liver bird upon his chest.

In doing so he became the first Irish man since Robbie Keane in the 2008/2009 season to represent the Reds and the first Irish man to play in goal for the reds since Steve Staunton was forced to guard the net towards the end of a hotly contested Merseyside Derby defeat to Everton at Anfield in 1999.

But it is not just about the significance of that achievement that stands out, the most impressive aspect is how well the 20 year old Mahon native handled the occasion.

"There was some very good moments and a couple of individual performances," Klopp told the Liverpool website afterwards.

"[For] 75 minutes we controlled the game, so then it was really tricky.

“Kelleher, to be honest, these games are there so the boys show how good they are. For a goalie, it's quite difficult in a game like this but then being there having not a lot to do over the whole game and then having these kind of saves, that's absolutely brilliant, so I'm happy about that as well.” 

The German is usually a very positive and larger than life character but he will only heap praise on a player if he deserves it.

Sometimes when football managers are presented with the opportunity to use the press to boost the morale of one of their players they run with it.

Former Everton manager Roberto Martinez was notorious for this. I remember on one occasion asking him about Aiden McGeady, who was also at the club at the time, and words like “magician” and “unique” and “really, really exciting” were used.

The winger would only make 16 appearances in the Premier League that season and with his only goal coming in the week before Martinez’s comments, although to be fair to both, injury may have also hampered his progress.

But Klopp will only speak glowingly about a player if it is earned. I have also asked him questions about Caoimhin Kelleher on a couple of occasions and while he spoke highly about his potential, it also came with the warning that he still has much to do and much to learn.

It’s why the praise after he helped the club progress to the fourth round of the league cup with a win and a clean sheet shouldn’t be taken lightly, it should be taken on its merits.

The young shot stopper’s highlights included making a point-blank save which he had no right to make and also rushing from his penalty area to clear a dangerous ball over the top.

The quality that he showed that night - which was bound to be a nervous occasion for the Republic of Ireland under 21 international – finally proved why Lijnders, Klopp and the club think so highly of him and why he was able to achieve the impossible.

Hopefully, it’s the first of many appearances for him.

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