It is well known, when the cat is not there, the mice dance. And in this game, it’s Caoimhín Kelleher who does the show in Liverpool, whenever Alisson is not in the game. Executioner of Leicester in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup this season, recently decisive against Chelsea, the young Irish goalkeeper surprises his world with each appearance in the red tunic. And yet, Kelleher was not destined to camp in front of his line. A look back at the beginnings of a very promising goalkeeper, destined to succeed as a true number 9.
“I remember that night. I was tense and very nervous ” , remembers Eddie Harrington, special guest of the third round of the Carabao Cup on September 25, 2019, as the small team of Milton Keynes Dons receives the ogre Liverpool. If Eddie decided to cross the 770 kilometers which separate the Irish port city of Cork and the region of Buckinghamshire, it is to see his little protégé: Caoimhín Kelleher. During this famous round of 16 at MK Dons, the Liverpool players are surprisingly roughed up, and Adam Lallana’s teammates will no more and no less rely on their goalkeeper. Holder for the first time under the orders of Jürgen Klopp, Kelleher will follow the parades and allow the Reds to keep their cage clean. 2-0 victory thus punctuated by a small feat for a young goalkeeper.
While the rest of the world discovers a confident and self-confident keeper on this balmy autumn evening, Eddie Harrington finds it hard to believe that his former colt is now defending the line of one of the kingdom’s most prestigious stables. Queen Elizabeth II. “In Cork, there is no one who really gets used to it” , launches the one who knew him when Caoimhín (pronounce Dancing) still wore the Ringmahon Rangers colors. And for good reason, eight years earlier, his young shoot had more the ambition to push the ball into the net than to prevent it from entering it. “He was among the best players in the Kennedy Cup (a very famous tournament in Ireland where the 32 best U14 teams from schools compete, Editor’s note), but as an attacker. And I can tell you he was very good, Harrington told the Irish sports daily Pundit Arena. So good that he even became one of the top scorers in this tournament. He planted goal after goal. ”
A goalscorer in a cage
If he was already destined to leave the island of Lee which connects the port Cork Harbor to the sea, to join the biggest teams of the country, it is not however as striker that he will. “The following year, our goalkeeper let us go, just a few days before the start of the new edition of the Kennedy Cup” , resumes Eddie, a chouia bad tongue for the blow. The usual goalkeeper was then outclassed, and had simply preferred to return to his category before sharing the field with the older ones. “It was then that Ray, Caoimhín Kelleher’s father, called me one evening, and said: “What do you think if we put Caoimhín in the goal?” » Puzzled at first, Eddie was finally convinced by Caoimhín’s father, who assured that his son wanted to help his team by putting on the gloves. “Yes, he did go in goal at the end of practice, but in his face you could see that it was never really serious, testifies Harrington. Ray insisted and I threw him. ”
When Caoimhín settles between the poles during the competition, Eddie is still apprehensive to see his boy play at this new position: “You have to know that when you are one of the best players in the Kennedy Cup, it means that you are already one of the most promising players in the country. ” It isn’t going to take long for the Irish coach to realize that he is right to sacrifice his greatest offensive asset. For his first match, Kelleher “Was brilliant” Eddie confides before assuring that it only took Caoimhín a few months to adjust to his new position. So much so that he became one of Cork’s top Kennedy Cup players, but this time with gloved hands. “From that day forward, he played in goal all the time. After that, it all went so fast. We sent him to Aston Villa for testing, and then Liverpool came quickly. ” To close this chapter, for his last game with the Ringmahon Rangers, Kelleher offers the U17 championship title to his team by scoring a goal in the dying seconds.
The roller coaster of Octopus
Suffice to say that Alisson’s helmet blow on the West Bromwich lawn a certain month of May 2021 must have brought back good memories to him. Lining the Brazilian for two years, Kelleher continues to learn the intricacies of his position and progresses at high speed in Becker’s wake. “My progress is due to the simple fact of working with him, of observing him and of discussing at length” , had affirmed the n ° 62 at the microphone of the club. After a short season in the retro of Simon Mignolet and therefore forced to perform with the U23, then a time in competition with the Spaniard Adrian, Kelleher now fulfills his contract each time he replaces Alisson in the ranks of Jürgen Klopp. So much so that he could quickly overtake Gavin Bazunu in the hierarchy in the Irish selection and claim a starting place with the men in green. And then, in view of the boy’s liabilities, the German tactician now knows that “Octopus”, Kelleher’s nickname in the ranks of Liverpool, can possibly compensate for the absences of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané during the CAN.
By Matthieu Darbas
Interview by Eddie Harrington collected by Pundit Arena and Football Daily.