Ringmahon coach reveals Liverpool keeper Kelleher started up front as the team's top scorer

Ringmahon coach reveals Liverpool keeper Kelleher started up front as the team's top scorer

Ringmahon keeper Caoimhin Kelleher holds possession after making a save against Carrigaline back in 2013 in the U16 CSL. Picture: Larry Cummins.

CAOIMHÍN Kelleher was making his name as talented, goalscoring striker when the opportunity he truly craved finally arrived.

In the days leading up to an important fixture in Ringmahon Rangers’ bid to avoid relegation from the Cork Schoolboys League U14 Premier Division, manager Eddie Harrington was dealt a blow as his first choice goalkeeper decided to quit.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” admitted Harrington, until the solution came from an unlikely source.

“I got a phone call one night off Ray (Caoimhín’s father) and he just said he heard we needed a keeper and would we take a chance and put Caoimhín in goal,” he added.

“Initially we were like ‘why would we put one of our best outfield players in goal?’ He was getting 20, 30 goals a season. I remember chatting to one of the other managers and thinking what are we going to do without him outfield?

“He was in the Kennedy Cup panel at the time as a striker but we didn’t know he was falling in goal with them as well at times in training.

“Ray was saying he was doing well and they think he would make a great keeper. Caoimhín used go in goal in training with us as well but we never took it seriously, we thought it was more of a laugh.

“He really enjoyed it but he would never push to play in there because we already had a keeper so Ray asked would we just take a chance because we were stuck anyway. Basically, we had no option so we put him in.”

Caoimhín Kelleher on the attack for Pres against Coláiste Choilm in an U15 final at Turner's Cross. Picture: Larry Cummins
Caoimhín Kelleher on the attack for Pres against Coláiste Choilm in an U15 final at Turner's Cross. Picture: Larry Cummins

Kelleher’s first competitive fixture in goal didn’t quite go according to plan. Despite a positive performance, he couldn’t prevent Ringmahon from falling to a narrow defeat against Springfield Ramblers.

“He won’t thank me for saying it but he got lobbed,” remembers Harrington. “He got caught for a cross and we lost 1-0. But he was outstanding that day and that was it he never looked back.

“He’s the type of fella he knows when he makes a mistake but nothing fazes him. That was early in the game and it was his first game in goal, most fellas would have crumbled but he was excellent for the rest of the game. That’s the kind of person he is, he won’t let mistakes get to him.

“It might have been more to do with the howling wind down in Ringmahon as well. It was just a cross, it could have happened to anyone. What we saw that day is he got over it fairly lively. We just left him in there after that and it was really lucky for everyone really.”

From that moment on Kelleher’s days playing as a number nine and scoring goals were over. Now his focus was on preventing them and using the experience he gained outfield to help up between the sticks.

“Once the goalkeeping thing started and that phone call came in his mind was completely gone. He didn’t want to play outfield anymore this was his love and there was no way was he coming back out after that,” insisted Harrington.

“He had no interest whatsoever playing outfield. He wanted to play in goal and his mind was made up; he was going to be a keeper.

“He started finding his voice then, telling defenders where to be and stuff. In public, he’s quiet but with the lads and his own friends he’s a bit of a messer. He’s a good joker too.

“We definitely starting improving once he went in goal and the lads outfield improved as well knowing that he was in there.

“He used to say it to us that he could read a striker going through because he was so good at scoring goals himself that he nearly knew where they were going to put it as such.

“His feet were excellent. Everyone knows now how good he is with his feet he can do what he wants the ball but going from outfield to in goal in such a short space of time was mad like.”

That transition was aided by fellow coaches Kevin O’Leary and Robbie O’Leary at local level while Stephen Bermingham, who was then in charge of the Cork Kennedy Cup team, also helped once finding out his striker was now a goalkeeper.

Kelleher starred in goal for Cork in that competition and as he continued to grow into his new position he began to attract interest from clubs in England. Trials at Blackburn and Aston Villa would follow over the years before he finally agreed to join Liverpool.

Kelleher at Ireland training. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kelleher at Ireland training. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Kelleher was unable to make the move until after his 16th birthday and with that taking place in November, it was decided he wouldn’t depart for Merseyside until the summer at the end of the school year. It meant he would be able to see out the remainder of his final season with Ringmahon Rangers which would have a fitting finale.

“In his last game ever for the club he won his first trophy, it was a fairytale,” said Harrington. “He brought us to another level. We scored a goal in the last minute against Corinthians to get a draw and we won the U17 Premier league then.

“We got a corner in the last few seconds so we throw everyone up because we had to score a goal and he went up as well. He ran around the pitch mad celebrating. He would be a closed shop, he wouldn’t usually show that much emotion but everyone was so grateful to win a trophy because we were together for so long.

“It was a great way to finish his time at Ringmahon.”

In seven years Caoimhin Kelleher has progressed from getting lobbed in his first match in goal for Ringmahon Rangers to receiving call-ups to the Liverpool and the Republic of Ireland senior squads. But his progression from promising striker to elite level goalkeeper really began with his father’s phone call.

Cork City's Gearoid presented Caoimhín Kelleher with the U10 Player of the Year Award. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Cork City's Gearoid presented Caoimhín Kelleher with the U10 Player of the Year Award. Picture: Howard Crowdy

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