If there are such things as parallel universes, then there is another Darren Randolph out there preparing for the USA’s Copa America Centenario opener against Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in California tonight.
It’s not so much of a stretch for the goalkeeper given his dad Ed, born in Tallahasee, Florida, was among the first wave of American basketball players to wash over the Irish club scene in the 1980’s and the US were interested in the son making the journey in reverse.
Bruce Arena was manager at the time and, though the contact came via a player Randolph knew, the inference was clear: All he had to do was make a call and he could be singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.
Randolph’s silence was his answer.
Ireland was home growing up and he had represented the country all the way up through the ranks. And anyway, there was no guarantee that the Yankee path would be any easier than an Irish route clogged with capable keepers.
“I still would have been in a similar situation,” he explained in Cork this week, after Martin O’Neill included him as one of three goalkeepers in his 23-man squad for France. “I would have (been behind) Tim Howard and Brad Guzan who they have there.
“It’s not like I would have walked right in and been in a better position than I am here. I had to weigh up those options. What am I going to do? Travel all the way over there to do the same thing I was doing when I travelled with Ireland?”
Life is filled with sliding doors moments, of course. Take Rob Elliot whom Randolph visited recently. The Newcastle United goalkeeper injured ligaments in his knee during Ireland’s 2-2 draw against Slovakia last March and the subsequent surgery is now being followed up with an operation on another ailment.
“I think he’s having an operation on a muscle here,” Randolph said pointing to his thigh. “So, he’s just getting that done. He’s as positive as he can be. He’s sorting out all the little issues he had with his body. So he’ll be back and he should be as good as new.”
David Forde’s absence is another reminder of the speed things change. It isn’t all that long ago that Forde was Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper and Randolph the fourth. Now the tables have turned with the Galway man failing to make the cut when O’Neill finalised his European Championship squad on Tuesday night.
Forde’s inactivity at Millwall, where he featured only 10 times over the campaign, counted against him, but Randolph feels sharp despite playing only 22 games for West Ham United and Ireland over the course of the season just ended.
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t be. We’ve all got to be here training regardless of when games finish. We’re all away in training camp for the same amount of time, same game time for the country before the tournament starts, it’s the same for the outfield players.
“So, I don’t think it makes too much of a difference.” Confident he may be, but he bristles at the notion that he is the current number one. Shay Given doesn’t come up in the conversation, but he is rich in his praise for Keiren Westwood who he believes was key to Sheffield Wednesday making the Championship play-off final.
“He has been brilliant for however many years.” Randolph made a couple of ill-timed errors against the Dutch last Friday, but with Given even shorter on game time and back from injury and Westwood without an international appearance in 12 months, he must still rank as favourite to stand between the sticks.
“You can’t relax and think that you have a place, as you’ve seen throughout the campaign, but it’s good healthy competition. Things change through injuries more so than form, so I suppose it’s a bit of luck that most people, or some people, needed.”
It could be another 10 days before Randolph discovers whether or not he will start against Sweden at the Stade de France in Ireland’s opening game, but he doesn’t come across as the type to be agitated by the uncertainty.
Martin O’Neill describes him as laidback and Roy Keane has suggested that O’Neill might be of the view that he is too horizontal. Keane doesn’t have an issue with that and Randolph is content with not being the loudest voice in the room.
“Football is full of highs and lows. Everyone has a different temperament to deal with things. I could quite easily be the one running around screaming and shouting, but it’s not my character. I deal with things how I deal with things.
“What might work for me might not work for someone else. Some people might like it, some people might not like it. It’s down to the individual or the people, you know? That’s kind of how I am. It’s just a role I like to take.”
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