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PA Sheffield Wednesday's recent win against Preston North End marked the 500th appearance of Keiren Westwood's club career.
# Keeper of the faith
Westwood insists he'll 'never close the door on Ireland' as World Cup qualifiers approach
No Irish goalkeeper is currently playing regularly at a higher level than the Sheffield Wednesday man.

KEIREN WESTWOOD SAYS he’s prepared to play a role – if called upon – in the Republic of Ireland’s bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup

No Irish goalkeeper is currently playing regularly at a higher level than the Sheffield Wednesday man, who has re-established himself as first-choice stopper in a resurgent Owls side.

Wednesday have climbed out of the Championship’s relegation zone by winning six of their last nine fixtures, with Westwood keeping a clean sheet in Tuesday’s victory against Wycombe Wanderers.

Darren Randolph, one of Ireland’s most dependable performers for several years, has started every competitive international fixture since October 2015.

However, the West Ham United goalkeeper has been restricted to just three Premier League appearances in the 13 months since he completed a transfer from Middlesbrough.

The 33-year-old Bray native is also recovering from an injury that has kept him out of the Hammers’ squad since last month.

Having been frozen out during Garry Monk’s spell as manager of Sheffield Wednesday, Westwood didn’t play a game for the club for a year.

He was immediately restored to the team when Tony Pulis replaced Monk in November. After overcoming an injury setback, the 36-year-old has now played 10 times in the Championship since making his long-awaited return to action 12 weeks ago.

With Ireland, Westwood won the last of his 21 senior caps in a 2017 friendly against Uruguay. Since then, his only involvement on the international stage was as an unused substitute for the double-header of Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia that marked the beginning of Mick McCarthy’s second tenure as manager. 

“When Mick was in charge I was playing at Wednesday but I had a few niggles and stuff,” Westwood explains to The42. “He just said: ‘you’re 35 years old, you’ve got three kids, I don’t really want to be dragging you here, there and everywhere because obviously Randy [Darren Randolph] is going to play.’

“I was absolutely fine with that, no problem. He asked me if he needed me would I come, and I said I’d swim across the water to do it, of course.

keiren-westwood-and-darren-randolph James Crombie / INPHO Keiren Westwood and Darren Randolph in training ahead of the March 2019 game in Gibraltar. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I haven’t spoken to Stephen Kenny. To be fair, when he came in I wasn’t playing for Wednesday. I was 35 and he already knew the young goalies as well.”

Kenny is currently preparing to guide Ireland into the qualification campaign for next year’s World Cup in Qatar. Ahead of the opening game away to Serbia on 24 March, Westwood is open to being considered for selection.

“You don’t retire from playing for your country – that’s how I see it,” says the former Coventry City and Sunderland goalkeeper, who debuted for Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni in a friendly against Nigeria in 2009.

“Should the manager want me involved, that’s up to him. I’ll keep playing my football. I’ll never close the door on Ireland. I love playing for Ireland so I’d never say no, if that makes sense.

“I’m not saying I should be playing or I should be in the squad just because I’m playing for Wednesday. I don’t want to give it that spiel because that’s just not me.

“It’s down to whatever the manager wants to do. If he wants to pick me, great, I’ll be delighted. If he doesn’t, like I say, international football retires you, you don’t retire from international football.”

In addition to Darren Randolph, youngsters Caoimhín Kelleher (22), Mark Travers (21) and Gavin Bazunu (18) are also sure to be in Stephen Kenny’s thoughts about the goalkeeper’s position.

Kelleher, who was Kenny’s preferred netminder during his reign as Ireland U21 boss, has now made five first-team appearances for Liverpool so far this season.

Already capped at senior level, Travers has played eight times for League One strugglers Swindon Town since being sent out on loan by Bournemouth last month.

Also earning senior experience in League One is Bazunu, who has racked up 22 games for Rochdale so far during his loan spell from Manchester City. 

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sheffield-wednesday-v-middlesbrough-sky-bet-championship-hillsborough PA Westwood makes a save to deny Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga. PA

“I’m delighted to see the young lads getting games,” says Westwood. “Kelleher has experienced the Champions League and he’s played really well every time I’ve watched him.

“Travs has been doing really well down at Swindon too, even though he’s gone into a tough situation with them down at the bottom of the table. I know how good he is because I’ve trained with him.

“Bazunu is someone I like a lot. I watched him playing for [Shamrock] Rovers when he was, like, 16 and I couldn’t believe how good he was. I’ve kept an eye on him and he’s doing well at Rochdale.”

Westwood has been to two major tournaments with Ireland, providing back-up to Shay Given and Darren Randolph respectively at the European Championships of 2012 and ’16.

As for his prospects of playing a part as the Boys in Green aim to bring the nation to a first World Cup in 20 years, he says: “At 36, if I’m honest I might not have that long left. I’d like to think I could probably play for a few more years and when the opportunity knocks you have to take it. 

“It would be special to see Ireland and all the lads qualifying for a World Cup. If I was to be part of that it would obviously be great.”

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