Packie Bonner has no concerns about Darren Randolph retaining the goalkeeper’s jersey for Ireland despite recently losing his place at West Ham.
And though the returning Rob Elliot and the in-form Keiren Westwood offer Martin O’Neill live options between the posts, legendary ‘keeper Bonner reckons Randolph has already done enough to ensure he will still be the last line of defence when Austria come to the Aviva Stadium for a vital World Cup qualifier next month.
“He’s going into the summer now, he’ll have time with the squad, two weeks together, he’ll be fine,” said Bonner.
“He was left out of the West Ham team which was a bit disappointing for him but the pressure is so much on these teams now. If you make one or two mistakes you are out: in our day you could make 10 mistakes and you were still there.
"That’s changed. But he knows what it takes to play at that level and I think he’s old enough now to handle all that. He’ll be desperate to get back in at West Ham but whether that happens or not, he’s in a different position now than he was three years ago — that’s for sure. People will come looking for him.”
Bonner has been especially impressed with the way Randolph has grown into the international role.
“He handled the European Championships really well,” he said.
“Do you know what I liked about him? I thought he was really alert, I thought he got into the line of the ball very quickly. If I had to talk about Darren five years previously when he was at Motherwell or when he was at Charlton, then I would say he needed to get his fitness levels up, he needed to get sharper.
"When he went to Motherwell, Gordon Marshall worked really hard with him. And I think he’s stepped up. Some goalkeepers, it takes a little bit of time but he’s up at a high level now.”
Bonner says he wasn’t surprised that Martin O’Neill chose to fast-track Randolph by sending him into the fray at the Aviva Stadium when Shay Given went off injured in the famous 1-0 defeat of Germany in 2015.
“What were the other options. (David) Forde? You have to look to the future. Now don’t get me wrong: David did well and I was delighted to see him do well because he’s ex-League of Ireland. But if you’re going to look to the future, Darren was the obvious choice for me.
"Put him in there and see what he can do. And his kicking is good. It suits the way that Martin plays. Martin is more direct, as we know, and Darren puts the ball into very good areas.”
Bonner, who played for Ireland in two World Cups, reckons a victory over Austria next month will smooth the road to Russia.
“We’ll be capable of getting a result,” he said.
“We’ve got one already against them, so we’re capable of it. I want to be confident and I think if we turn Austria over then we’ll qualify. This is the critical one, but the other critical one is Georgia away.
"I know we have to play Serbia too but I just think if we lose anything in this one then it makes the next games more difficult.
"The Georgia away game is the first one after Austria. Scotland went out to Georgia thinking they were going to turn them over in the last qualification, and they didn’t, and that’s what put them out.
"I’ve been there and it’s a tough place to go, Georgia. So these next two games are critical and the rest take care of themselves.”
Packie Bonner was speaking in Dublin to help promote awareness of bladder cancer as part of a new campaign, ‘Don’t Ignore The Red’.
The ‘Don’t ignore the red’ campaign, created by Roche and the Marie Keating Foundation, aims to educate people on recognising the symptoms. The most common symptom is blood in urine, a ‘red’ that should never be ignored.
For more information, go to www.mariekeating.ie/cancer-information/bladder-cancer
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