Darren Randolph could hardly have picked a better time to keep a clean sheet at Anfield.
With Shay Given and David Forde both on the bench for their clubs at the weekend, the ‘keeper was able to take advantage of Adrian’s suspension to follow up on a fine performance against Bournemouth by helping West Ham to a shock 2-0 win against Liverpool and so spark speculation he could now be in line to make his competitive debut for Ireland against Gibraltar on Friday.
At 28, you could say the Bray man has had to bide his time and, having learned the virtues of patience, he’s not going to be tricked into counting any chickens.
“I think there’s always opportunities for everyone, that’s how you have to look at it,” he says. “But no matter who has gone in, they’ve done the job. We work closely together and no matter who is in there they get our full backing, our full support. So we’ll just look to get a good week in and see what happens when he has the team sheet on Friday and Monday. If I’m there, brilliant. If I’m not, it’s still good to be involved. When you’re playing in the Premier League, it can’t do you any harm. It gives the manager a headache, but a good sort of headache.”
And the same, he suggests, applies to Slaven Bilic at West Ham.
“It couldn’t have gone better for me,” he agrees. “Man of the match in one then a clean sheet and a win away from home in the second one. So I’d like to like to think I’ve given him a tough decision.”
His summer move from Birmingham means Randolph has returned to the Premier League almost a full eight years after he made what had been his first and last appearance in the top-flight — and that too was at Anfield on the very last day of the 2007 season when his then club Charlton held Liverpool 2-2 in what was Robbie Fowler’s last game for the club. (And it could have been an even more memorable day for Randolph, except that he was unable to stop Harry Kewell equalising for the hosts from the penalty spot late on).
From Charlton, Randolph moved north to Motherwell where he began to show sufficient consistent form to warrant both his first senior call-up for Ireland, under Steve Staunton, and a move to the Championship with Birmingham City. But it was the old lure of a return to the Premier League which finally took him to West Ham, even though he was well established with the Blues and knew that his game time would likely be more limited at Upton Park.
“It took me a while to decide, “ he admits. “I did enjoy it at Birmingham but the chance to play in the Premier League might not have came back around. I wasn’t expecting to play in the first Premier League game and it was good to get some Europa League games in. The Premier League is where you want to play. So far it seems like the right move.”
It might all have been very different if, following in his basketball-playing father’s footsteps, Darren had opted to pursue his hoop dreams as a teenager.
“My dad still plays Division One (for Bray Bullets),” he smiles. “He is 55 and going strong. I was going to go on a basketball scholarship to America before I went to England, when I was 15. But I decided to play football instead.
“I had a better chance of getting further in football. I was never going to play in the NBA.
“I was playing for the Irish team in both at the time. So some weekends I was going straight from the AUL out to Rathcoole to train with the basketball. It became too hard to try and juggle both of them. They kept falling on the same weekend. So I decided to go with football. It has worked out. So far, so good.”
And, just maybe, about to get a whole lot better.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved