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Joe Giddens Kelleher pictured in action at Milton Keynes.
# Irish Abroad
'Caoimhín was behind Alisson and Mignolet but the U21 games have given him extra confidence'
Stephen Kenny praised Caoimhín Kelleher after making his senior Liverpool debut against MK Dons.

WITH A UEFA Champions League winners’ medal in his back pocket and a clean sheet on his senior debut, it has been a successful past few months for Caoimhín Kelleher.

The Cork-born goalkeeper was third-choice at Anfield last season, but has been elevated even further this campaign with Alisson Becker suffering a tricky injury setback on the opening day of the season.

The 20-year-old made a number of top saves against MK Dons in the League Cup last week and walked away with a clean sheet on his first outing for Jurgen Klopp’s side as Liverpool secured a 2-0 away win.

Kelleher will switch his focus back to international duty next week. As expected, he was named in Stephen Kenny’s 22-man squad for the upcoming U21 Euro qualifiers against Italy and Iceland.

Kenny believes the young shot-stopper has made excellent progress over the last few months, keeping clean sheets in U21 games against Luxembourg, Mexico (twice), Bahrain and Armenia between Euro qualifiers and last summer’s Toulon Tournament.

“The thing about Caoimhín is that I think the U21 internationals have really helped him,” the Ireland boss said.

“He was involved with Liverpool a lot last season, he was behind Alisson and Mignolet at that time, and he was with the first-team travelling a lot.

caoimhin-kelleher Bryan Keane / INPHO Kelleher has made eight Ireland U21 appearances this year, keeping five clean sheets. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“But the fact that he was able to play for us in the game against Luxembourg, plus five games in Toulon, and then the two Euro qualifiers [against Armenia and Sweden] — means he’s got eight U21 international games under his belt in that short space of time.

I feel that has given him extra confidence. Taking the game against Brazil out of the equation [a 2-0 semi-final defeat to the Toulon Tournament winners], in seven of those games he only conceded two goals. That’s pretty impressive.”

Kelleher has been Kenny’s first-choice goalkeeper since taking over the U21s. The 47-year-old was encouraged by his performance against MK Dons in the League Cup and expects great things to come from his player.

“It’s great for him that he made his debut for Liverpool last week,” Kenny added. “He’s got a great attitude and it is progress — you have to view it as that.”

Ireland, who have never qualified for an U21 competition before, take on group favourites Italy next Thursday evening. Tickets for the qualifier at Tallaght Stadium have already sold-out and a new record crowd for an U21 game is expected.

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Five days later Kenny’s side face third-seeds Iceland in Reykjavik. Ireland are currently top of Group 1, having earned three wins from their opening qualifiers against Luxembourg, Armenia and Sweden.

We’ve two games, it’s not just about Italy” Kenny said. “Iceland have had a really good start as well and they are highly regarded. So two tough games.

“They’re the first and third seeds in the group and certainly those are games to look forward to. Great games, really, to play in for the players. We can certainly look forward to them.”

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