Ireland top priority for Keiren Westwood in three-way race to be number one

Keiren Westwood’s body language said it all. With 70 minutes played at Turner’s Cross on Tuesday, and David Forde given the nod to replace Shay Given in goal, it looked like the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper’s chances of booking passage to France had come and gone without him even donning the gloves.

Ireland top priority for Keiren Westwood in three-way race to be number one

Superb again for the Yorkshire club despite their Championship play-off final defeat to Hull City at Wembley on Saturday, he had only been with the Ireland squad for the bones of two days, and it didn’t look then like his stay would extend to three.

Westwood hung his head despondently before managing a wry smile that hinted at acceptance of an unwanted fate. He was still “keeping me head down” over an hour later when Martin O’Neill began asking the unlucky few to step outside for a quiet word.

He wasn’t called on this time either. To the surprise of many.

It’s not that he could be described as a bolter, not with 18 caps and his status as Ireland’s first-choice keeper for a spell after the last European Championship, but his inclusion flew in the face of some unfavourable perceptions that had hardened into accepted wisdom.

News of his withdrawal from various Ireland squads had become an irritant. They raised questions over commitment and sparked the observation from O’Neill that reliability was an issue while feeding the feeling that the pair’s relationship was strained from their time at Sunderland.

“It’s easy to throw that at me, I suppose, but I don’t see where that has any reason,” Westwood said when his frequent absences were put to him, after training at Fota Island yesterday. “The only reason I wouldn’t be in the squad is because I was injured.

“That’s frustrating to read, lads, yeah. I’m not going to lie to you because there’s no real substance to it, apart from I’m injured. It’s not like I’m fully fit and I’ve gone ‘nah, that’s not for me’. I haven’t done that, so it is a bit frustrating.”

He played 37 times for Wednesday this past season, but it was February before he was fully fit.

An ankle injured playing Braga in a pre-season friendly in Portugal took that long to heal and only then after a handful of steroid injections every six weeks.

He did watch the defeats of Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina from the stands in the Aviva Stadium, but his club seemed to be less than pleased that he was travelling even for that when the ankle injury required such care and three or four days of rest.

“Sheffield Wednesday pay the wages, don’t they?” he asked rhetorically at one point.

His form, though good already, stepped up again once the ankle healed fully. Ten of his 14 clean sheets were recorded from that point on, but the damage to his international career appeared to have been already done.

Westwood’s was one of those names to fall off the page when O’Neill whittled his initial 40-man squad down for the March double-header against Switzerland and Slovakia and he admitted yesterday that he thought any hope of a Euro berth was as good as gone.

His was an odd omission given his form with Wednesday, with whom he has enjoyed two superb seasons, but it seemed to chime with his experiences under O’Neill in the north-east where he spent so much of his time on the sidelines.

Westwood had sought a move away on loan at one point as Simon Mignolet kept watch in goal, but the Manchester native has explained before that he understood the manager’s refusal to allow him leave and he stressed yesterday that his motives were based on international ambitions.

“I remember telling him that (Giovanni) Trapattoni’s told me if I didn’t play, I’m not going to play (for Ireland). I told Martin that and before I knew it I was out of the team, like. Both teams.” He laughed as he said it, but Westwood eager to look forward now rather than back.

You can see why.

He declares himself happy at Wednesday, but it can’t be any harm that he has been linked with a string of Premier league clubs that includes Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City just as he is in a three-way race for the job as Ireland’s number one.

The smart money is on O’Neill sticking with Darren Randolph even if Westwood has the benefit of far more game time this year than either him or Shay Given, but all three will train this next two weeks believing they can be the ones starting against Sweden on June 13.

“I think that’s everybody’s aim, is it not? I would say everyone in the 23 wants to be in the 11. Not just me or the keepers or the two right backs or the centre-mids or the strikers or the centre-halves. Everyone is going to be in the same boat, not just me.”

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