Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Super Keeper
'We get written off a lot. The lads are used to it. We use it as motivation'
Goalkeeper Darren Randolph is defiant in the face of deepening doubts over Ireland’s Euro 2020 hopes.

AS HE SPRUNG from the spongy Stade de Geneva turf after tipping Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty onto the post, Darren Randolph pushed away those Ireland team-mates rushing to give him high fives and a slap on the back.

Instead, he looked to the huge clock at the other end to check exactly how long was left.

darren-randolph-saves-a-penalty Tommy Dickson / INPHO Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph saves a penalty from Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“I thought, ‘there is enough time there to get one chance, this is the moment we will score’,” he revealed.

It wasn’t. There was no grand finale. Instead, the Swiss rolled Ireland over convincingly.

“Hopefully it has just built up more of a climax for when we win and we qualify,” Randolph continued, wistfully.

That victory is required against Denmark in the final Group D appointment at Aviva Stadium next month. The Danes come to Dublin needing a point to secure automatic qualification at a stage where it looks as if Ireland have faded beyond being any serious threat.

The last two games – regardless of being difficult away fixtures – have sapped so much of the positivity that had been accumulated previously. It’s not just the results, a draw and a defeat, but the frightening level of performance.

Ineptitude combined with fear is a worrying cocktail, and Ireland certainly looked punch drunk.

“Before the group started, I don’t think anyone would have had us in the position we are with one game to go,” Randolph continued.

We get written off a lot. The lads are used to it.

“We use it as motivation. It doesn’t bother me. People can say what they want but look where we are. We can’t be that bad.”

But why does it feel that they are?

True, last night’s 2-0 defeat was the first time Ireland have been beaten in this group, but there has been little to inspire any great sense that this is a team capable of pushing the boundaries. Instead, their jobs are to work diligently within them and hope it is enough.

“We’ve had it the whole group where people haven’t expected us to do well or be here now with a chance of winning to qualify. We knew even going into this game that nobody gave us a chance,” Randolph added, admitting they are not oblivious to outside criticisms.

darren-randolph-dejected-after-the-game Ryan Byrne / INPHO A dejected Darren Randolph after Ireland's defeat in Geneva. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We know it. We hear people say it, we read it. People said it from the start of the group, and we are where we are now through the hard work of the team and the staff.”

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Of course, that is to be admired. It should not be forgotten the depths which Ireland’s confidence and belief plummeted to during those final, despairing days of the Martin O’Neill era.

Mick McCarthy revitalised the squad and will be charged with inspiring another dramatic shift in the pattern of this group by the time the Danes arrive next month.

Flittering from one formation to the next in Geneva doesn’t bode well at this stage but for Randolph, he sees reasons to be optimistic while also backing up Glenn Whelan’s assertion that Ireland must try and get on the front foot.

“We need to take that second-half performance, just getting on the ball, passing it, being confident and getting belief. Maybe Whelo was right, not showing teams that much respect.

“I can’t speak for the other lads on the pitch, Switzerland are a good side and probably the best in the group. At times you will have to ride your luck. We win, we qualify,” he pointed out matter-of-factly.

The added element, not so much a sub-plot but a great big juicy storyline, is the fact it is Denmark coming back to Dublin so soon after the 5-1 defeat they inflicted in the second leg of the 2018 World Cup play-off.

“That was one game out of five or six, they have all been close apart from that one, and even that one was until the last 20 minutes. Thinking back to when we did qualify against Bosnia [for Euro 2016], the lads in there who know that feeling, it’s something for the other lads who weren’t to think about and daydream about, and that alone should be enough ammunition to fire them up,” Randolph feels.

“It’s there in our hands to qualify automatically and that’s what we’re thinking, so you push that play-off out of your mind. We have to [rise to the pressure].

We qualify or go into the play-off. We know it’s win and go through.

“We switch off and go back to club football but with a week, two weeks to go you start to think about it again and what could happen. I’ll be able to switch off quite easily, but it will definitely be in the back of my mind.

“I will have some days when I’m day-dreaming about qualifying in Dublin but it won’t be the sole thing occupying my thoughts.”

You get the feeling that won’t be the case for Mick McCarthy, as the countdown on his time in charge gathers pace.

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