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'It will be surreal to be there' - How Randolph seized his opportunity to be Ireland's number one at Euro 2016

The West Ham keeper hasn’t put a foot wrong since stepping in as first choice goalkeeper seven months ago.

Ireland number one Darren Randolph.
Ireland number one Darren Randolph.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

DARREN RANDOLPH HEADS into his first major tournament as Ireland’s first choice goalkeeper and no one can deny he deserves it after seizing his opportunity.

At 29, the Bray native, who was named on the standby list by Giovanni Trapattoni for Euro 2012, has just enjoyed the best year of his football career for both club and country.

Last summer, former Charlton Athletic and Motherwell stopper Randolph sealed a move to West Ham after rejecting a contract extension at Birmingham City, where he had excelled during a two-year spell.

There were no guarantees first team football would follow with Spaniard Adrian established as the Hammers’ number one.

However, he was thrown in for a two-legged Europa League qualifier with FC Lusitans in July and soon made his Premier League debut for the club — capitalising on Adrian’s suspension to get a run of three matches in the team early on in the season.

Randolph didn’t look one bit out of place at the top level and manager Slaven Bilic decided to give him game-time as West Ham’s FA Cup keeper for the campaign as they reached the quarter-final before going out to Manchester United in a replay.

His performances had by this time also caught the eye of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who picked him on the bench for qualifiers with Gibraltar and Georgia in September.

Again named among the substitutes when world champions Germany came to Dublin two months later, Randolph would be called into action just before the half time whistle when Shay Given was forced off with a twisted knee.

Earning just his third senior cap, the ex-Ardmore Rovers schoolboy produced a number of top class saves and set up Shane Long’s famous winner with a long punt down-field.

Since that night, he has been a calm and commanding presence between the sticks in the following six international matches, including the play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Randolph looks set to start ahead of Given and Keiren Westwood for the meeting with Sweden at the Stade de France in ten days’ time barring an injury (touch wood), and he admits it will be a dream come true.

“It will be a highlight for me and definitely something to look back on,” Randolph said in Cork yesterday.

“You’re running around with your mates when you’re younger calling out names of different players from different World Cups and European Championships, and it will be surreal to be there myself and involved in one.”

West Ham United v Swansea City - Barclays Premier League - Upton Park Randolph made 15 appearances for West Ham in all competitions last season. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Unlike his predecessor, O’Neill has always opted to name his line-ups 90 minutes before kick-off and it’s a system that suits Randolph just fine.

“It’s how he works,” he adds. “It has been that way since he first came into the job. You go out and train, train hard and we know he’s not going to have the team until we get to the changing room.

Everyone just prepares like you’re going to play. If you get the nod. If you don’t get the nod, be prepared to come on.”

There’s a closeness and a camaraderie between the goalkeepers and, although he is no longer a regular starter, Randolph believes Given’s experience can only have a positive effect on him.

“Shay is one of the names,” he said of his team-mate. “Not only Irish goalkeepers, but most goalkeepers, he’s up there with the top ones.

“It’s always good to have any experienced player there, especially someone with his experience. I was reading the programme the other day – 133 caps, or 134 after last night (Tuesday) – that’s invaluable.”

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Ben Blake

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