No Champions League but a breakthrough season for Caoimhín Kelleher

Cork keeper was a key figure in Liverpool's squad this season even if the bid for a quadrable was halved by Man City and Real Madrid
No Champions League but a breakthrough season for Caoimhín Kelleher

Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and Mohamed Salah during a training session at Stade de France ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final in Paris on Saturday.

IT was a heartbreaking end to a brilliant season for Caoimhín Kelleher.

Liverpool were beaten 1-0 in the Champions League final, on a night marred by crowd issues outside the Stade de France in Paris. This came just a week after Manchester City denied the club the Premier League title in the final 10 minutes of the season.

Regardless of the results, the Corkman finishes out the year after winning the Carabao Cup and FA Cup.

The EFL Cup success, against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium, was Kelleher’s day as he kept a clean sheet and scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out. The goalkeeper also put in an excellent display against Chelsea in the Premier League last January and he kept a clean sheet against Watford at Vicarage Road.

Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during a training session
Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during a training session

This was a real breakthrough campaign for 23-year-old former Ringmahon Rangers player.

Three years ago when he last went with the Liverpool squad to a Champions League final, in Madrid against Tottenham Hotspur, he was third-choice goalkeeper. This was a novelty to his home city, as the last player from Leeside to be involved in a game of that stature was Denis Irwin with Manchester United in 1999.

Roy Keane, who was captain of the Red Devils that season, famously missed the final over a yellow card picked up in the semi-final against Juventus.

For Kelleher, this season was the perfect breakthrough. In a world where around 1% of players transition from a club’s academy to the first team, he seamlessly integrated into one of the best teams in world football.


His performances have warranted considerable praise from the Liverpool staff, with Jurgen Klopp singling him out after the club won the EFL Cup.

“Alisson Becker is the best goalie in the world for me. There are other good goalies out there but this one is insane. But, for me, Caoimh is the best number two in the world,” he said.

For Cork, it was a reassertion of the city as a powerhouse in European football. This is the county of Frank O’Farrell, Keane, Irwin, and now Kelleher.

All around the Stade de France, and across Paris on Saturday afternoon, people associated Cork with famous footballers and big events like the 1999 Champions League final.

This follows almost two decades of bewilderment in Ireland’s second city, a period when names from Cork were few and far between on team sheets in the English top flight.

The best illustration of this is the make-up of the Irish squad for Euro 2012. Not one footballer from Cork travelled to the finals in Poland and Ukraine.

While the county has produced some top players; such as Preston North End captain Alan Browne and Sheffield United duo Conor Hourihane and John Egan, no one quite reached the highs of Keane and Irwin in the 1990s.

They won almost every medal there is to be won in world club football during their days at Old Trafford.

Kelleher, in his breakthrough season at Liverpool, has not only established himself, but re-established Cork as a powerhouse in football.

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