Keeper of the faith

The Leaving Cert student aiming for Euros success and a Manchester City breakthrough

Ex-Shamrock Rovers youngster Gavin Bazunu is in the Ireland squad for the U17 European Championships.

GAVIN BAZUNU ISN’T reluctant to aim high.

For club and country, he’s determined to succeed. And regardless of how far his football career takes him from here, he’ll always remain grateful to the club he has supported since the age of four for the seminal moment that accelerated his progress.

Gavin Bazunu Gavin Bazunu pictured earlier this week. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

In June of last year, Bazunu met up with the Shamrock Rovers first-team squad before their Premier Division fixture against Bray Wanderers in Tallaght.

For the sixth game in a row, the Dublin-born goalkeeper was expecting to sit on the bench to provide back-up to Tomer Chencinski, an experienced campaigner over twice his age who had been capped at senior international level by Canada.

Yet when he arrived home that night, Bazunu was celebrating the remarkable achievement of making his senior debut for the Hoops just four months after marking his 16th birthday.

“I only found out that I’d be starting about an hour and half before kick-off in the pre-match meeting,” Bazunu says, looking back on his full debut for Shamrock Rovers, which ended in a 5-0 victory for Stephen Bradley’s side.

“It didn’t give me much time to think about it. I was straight into the warm-up and then into the match. I was excited but obviously really nervous too. Going on to play first-team games gave me a lot of confidence. It allowed me to push on and demand more from myself.”

Bazunu retained his place in the starting line-up and produced performances that belied his age and inexperience. He kept a fourth consecutive clean sheet by making a superb penalty save to deny Kieran Sadlier as Rovers earned a draw against Cork City at Turner’s Cross.

A week later, he finally conceded against Swedish side AIK. Rovers were eliminated after extra-time in the away leg in Stockholm, but by then, news of the teenage goalkeeper starring in the Europa League had already reached some of the biggest clubs in England.

Gavin Bazunu saves a penalty from Kieran Sadlier Bazunu saves a penalty from Cork City's Kieran Sadlier. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur were all monitoring his situation, but Premier League champions Manchester City ultimately won the race for his signature.

“Over the last 10 months there has been a lot of change which I’ve had to adapt to,” Bazunu explains. “Thankfully I’ve had support around me to keep me grounded and level-headed. I’m always just thinking about the next training session or the next match.

“There will always be a place in my heart for Shamrock Rovers because of everything they’ve done for me. They’re my local club and I’ve been supporting them since I was about four. I’ll continue to keep appreciating the part they’ve played.”

Since completing his move to England in February, Bazunu has played regularly for his new club’s U18 side. He was also included on the bench for their defeat to Liverpool via a penalty shootout in last week’s FA Youth Cup final.

Despite his determination to carve out a successful career with a club of City’s stature, Bazunu hasn’t neglected his education. He continues to work with a tutor from his base in Manchester as he prepares to sit his Leaving Certificate examinations in June. 

“Between training, getting to know everybody over there, adapting to the way they play and also my education, there hasn’t even been time for me to think about being homesick, which is a good thing,” Bazunu says.

He adds: “Manchester City is one of the biggest clubs in the world now. There are top-quality players from all over the world coming in. But I believe if I apply myself and work as hard as I can that I can break through, hopefully in the next couple of years.”

Gavin Bazunu Bazunu training with the Ireland U21s last month. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Bazunu, who has already been involved with Stephen Kenny’s Ireland U21 set-up, is currently back on home soil as a member of Colin O’Brien’s U17 squad for the European Championships.

Ireland’s tournament begins against Greece at Tallaght Stadium on Friday. Czech Republic will provide the opposition on Monday at Waterford’s RSC, before the Irish youngsters return to Tallaght the following Thursday to conclude their Group A campaign against Belgium. 

There have been five defeats in the eight friendly games Ireland have played in preparation for this tournament, but that seemingly hasn’t affected their confidence. With Irish underage teams becoming increasingly competitive against the top nations, Bazunu believes a place in the final in Tallaght on 19 May is a realistic target.

“I don’t see any reason to sell ourselves short,” he says. “We have a lot of quality in this team. I don’t believe that we should limit ourselves to just getting out of the group or getting to the quarter-finals. We have the belief in the group that we can go all the way.”  

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