Darren Randolph could easily have been playing at the Copa América for the USA this summer but instead the West Ham goalkeeper will be attempting to secure a starting place for the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2016. The 29-year-old came within a phone call of switching allegiances and Jürgen Klinsmann’s loss appears to be Martin O’Neill’s gain.
Randolph, eligible for the US owing to his basketball-playing father, Ed, was close to joining the stars and stripes during the latter days of Bruce Arena’s time in charge. Having played for Ireland’s Under-21s he stuck with his country of birth, despite struggling to fight his way into the squad. Having progressed from fourth-choice to first in the space of the Euros qualification campaign, the decision to stick rather than twist appears to be paying off. Now his aim is to seal the No1 spot for the Group E opener against Sweden on 13 June.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Randolph says. “I was there or thereabouts. The phone call was there if I wanted to make it but I played every age all the way up [for Ireland].
“And I still would have been in a similar situation, behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. 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?”
Randolph’s ascent from the bench to the starting position has been rapid, though, aided by his good form at West Ham and their extended FA Cup run, which allowed him more game time in place of Slaven Bilic’s first-choice keeper, Adrián.
Then there was his introduction for Shay Given in the first half of the 1-0 win over Germany in October. Randolph had played only 60 minutes of senior international football before. He not only kept a clean sheet against the world champions but provided the assist for Shane Long’s match-winner, too.
“I tried to kick it to Jonny Walters but he was offside,” Randolph says. “He was left and Longy was right. I saw Longy run and he took a touch. I’m looking, I’m looking and he scored. So I had a little smile and I’m thinking ‘How long is left?’”
Twenty minutes remained and the keeper kept out Germany, moving Ireland above Scotland and into a play-off position. Randolph became first choice for the final qualifiers and the play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Yet he is not guaranteed to continue in goal in France, facing stiff competition from Keiren Westwood and Given. “The closer it gets everyone has little thoughts and daydreams. It’s only natural, the closer it gets. I’m excited. I missed out on the last one. I’m more excited to go and see the tournament as a whole and not just our three games.
“To see the streets when we’re going to a game and if we don’t have a game seeing the other countries’ fans around the place. The tournament itself I’m looking forward to.”
Randolph is known for his laid-back attitude, with team-mates considering him near horizontal at times, but he was not always so relaxed. Growing up, following in his dad’s footsteps, he played basketball – at point guard – and the red mist would often descend.
His father, from Miami, moved to Belfast to shoot hoops in 1982 after a successful college career stateside came to a halt and he still plays now, in his mid-50s, for Bray Bullets.
“Everyone has a different temperament to deal with things,” Randolph says. “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 and what might work for me might not work for someone else.
“Different people try to lead a team. Other people just sit back and let other people do the talking. I’ll say some stuff before a game but I’m not the loudest one in the changing room. You don’t hear me.
“Growing up, playing basketball, I had a short temper. I wasn’t the most patient person – not just in sport, in everything. I’ve learned wisdom.”
His acquired perseverance, a decade on from playing a sole B international, is about to pay off.
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