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Donall Farmer/INPHO Westwood with fellow goalkeeper Darren Randolph at the Radisson Hotel in Cork.
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'We weren't high-fiving anyone. It was really sombre' - Westwood feels for unlucky team-mates
The Ireland goalkeeper talks about getting the news that he’s going to Euro 2016, his relationship with Martin O’Neill and the friendly rivalry with room-mate Darren Randolph.

IT SHOULDN’T HAVE come as a surprise given how good he has been over the past two seasons, but Keiren Westwood’s inclusion on the 23-man Ireland squad for Euro 2016 will have caught a few people out.

Since joining Sheffield Wednesday from Sunderland in the summer of 2014, the 31-year-old has arguably been the Championship’s best goalkeeper.

However, after starting Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge of Ireland (a 3-0 win over Latvia in November 2013), Westwood fell down the pecking order at international level and featured just once for the Boys in Green in the two-and-a-half years since then.

With Rob Elliot sidelined with a knee injury, that left four goalkeepers with realistic aspirations to fill the three spots at next month’s major tournament and it looked as though Westwood would lose out to Darren Randolph, Shay Given and David Forde.

But, on Tuesday night, O’Neill revealed that Millwall’s current second-choice stopper Forde won’t be making the trip to France.

Describing the scene in the dressing rooms of Turner’s Cross as the players discovered their fate, Westwood explained that there was initially a huge sense of relief, before the players quickly spared a thought for the team-mates who weren’t quite as lucky.

“Yes, of course (we were relieved),” Westwood said today. “Then your mind flicks to your friends who have not made it, so a little flip of the coin really.

Not just Fordy, Gibbo as well. All the other lads, McGoldrick, Eunan O’Kane as well. It’s really disappointing. There were no real congratulations thrown about, we weren’t high-fiving anyone. It was really sombre.

The atmosphere was a little bit devastation, really, for the other lads because we’re all friends.”

It has been a whirlwind week for Manchester-born Westwood. On Saturday evening, he lined out in front of 70,189 fans and put in a stunning performance but wound up on the losing side in the Championship play-off final as Hull City pipped Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 to ensure a swift return to the Premier League.

While he describes the whole experience of coming within touching distance of promotion to England’s top flight as “heartbreaking”, claiming a place in the Ireland squad has given him a welcome boost.

“With the play-offs going on, I didn’t really have time to put this into any sort of process.” he says. “I’ve only been here for two days. So it has all just started for me, but it was the pick-me-up I needed after Saturday.

“It was really emotional, really draining. I put everything in, we all did. Sheffield Wednesday isn’t just about me. The whole squad, the staff, everything that we worked for for the whole season and put in so much effort. To fall like that, it’s hard to take.

“I remember talking to a few of the Derby lads last year and it was hard to take for them as well. No matter who you are, you could be the hardest, strongest man in the world but to come that close is real heartbreaking.

“Especially with all those fans there, were had over 40,000 I think. It was a great game to play in, and I can always look back in my career and say I played in the richest game in football. It’s a little feather in my cap but we got beat, which is an absolute killer.”

Hull City v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship - Play-Off - Final - Wembley Stadium PA Archive / Press Association Images Westwood in action at Wembley. PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Westwood’s relationship with the Ireland boss has been questioned in the past given his lack of game-time in recent years. But the Owls stopper, who played under O’Neill at Sunderland, insists the pair get on well and says the reason he hasn’t featured more often is due to his injury struggles.

“It’s grand,” he said. “Not being in the squad from time to time, people put two and two together to try and make nine or ten, but it’s fine. We were fine at Sunderland, there are no problems.

“I wasn’t playing every week for Sheffield Wednesday. I missed maybe 12 games this year carrying injuries since my second day of pre-season. I only really got fully-fit in February.

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“I’ve kept 14 clean sheets in 37 games this year. If you look, I’d be quite confident in saying most of my clean sheets came after January, where I was fit.

With the international games in November, especially the play-offs, I couldn’t do anything about being injured.”

Now the final squad for the European championships is known, all 23 players will be busting a gut to impress O’Neill, Keane and the rest of the backroom staff with the first Group E game against Sweden less than two weeks away.

If Westwood is to line out at the Stade de France on 13 June, he must displace room-mate and friend Darren Randolph, who currently hold the number one shirt. Rivalries aside, he says whatever happens over the next month, it’s far greater than one individual.

“We’re best pals!” Westwood explains. “I know you all try to create a bit of needle between the two of us but we’re best pals. We always throw each other a text. He text me before the Wembley matches and, before the Bosnia game I’d be texting him buzzing.

“Obviously we’re rivals, but we’re pals. I’d be delighted for Darren (if he plays). It’s not just about Darren, or me, or Shay, or John O’Shea or Ciaran Clark. It’s about the country and we’re all in it together.”

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