Caoimhin Kelleher set for Ireland No. 1 role with “fingers crossed” over injury

Caoimhin Kelleher is expected to return to training this weekend following a stomach injury, with “fingers crossed” he can start for the Republic of Ireland this month.

Kelleher has missed seven of the last eight games with an issue described by Liverpool as a knock, only returning to take a place on the bench for the Champions League first-leg win over RB Leipzig on February 16.

The 22-year-old, now the Reds’ second-choice ‘keeper, has been absent from training throughout, with Adrian filling in as backup and starter during Alisson‘s time out.

It has given opportunities to youngsters such as Jakub Ojrzynski, Liam Hughes and Harvey Davies, who have all made the bench in the Champions League, with Kelleher’s unavailability causing something of a reshuffle.

But Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has revealed that he is due back in training this weekend after six weeks out, and just in time as he faces an injury crisis of his own.

First-choice stopper Darren Randolph is out with hip and thigh problems, leaving Kenny to keep his “fingers crossed” that Kelleher can prove his fitness to start against Serbia, Luxembourg and Qatar.

“Caoimhin is injured at the moment as well. He has a slight abdominal tear,” Kenny explained in a fan Q&A on Thursday night.

“He’s due back training at the weekend. We’ll see how he goes and fingers crossed he is OK because he has great potential.

“He played five games for Liverpool and has been first class in all of them.”

DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND - Sunday, October 11, 2020: Republic of Ireland's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the pre-match warm-up before the UEFA Nations League Group Stage League B Group 4 match between Republic of Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If Kelleher is able to return, it would be a big boost for Ireland as, without Randolph, he is now their most reliable goalkeeping option.

Though he is yet to make his debut, the Cork native has been a regular part of Kenny’s squad this season, and has proved himself when called upon by Jurgen Klopp, supplanting Adrian as No. 2.

This break could be a turning point for Kelleher at international level, too, as though Randolph is a capable stopper, given he is 33, Ireland will need to begin succession planning.

An impressive run of performances in World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Luxembourg could help Kelleher cement himself as a genuine candidate for first choice, providing him with further vital experience as he develops as a young ‘keeper.

That he has not been involved for much of the last month-and-a-half is a concern, however, and the hope will be that he isn’t rushed back to solve a problem for Ireland.