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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Keeper's shirt is up for grabs

Uncapped in competitive games, Elliot keen to force O'Neill's hand

Rob Elliot during a Republic of Ireland press conference at the National Sports Campus, Abbotstown. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Elliot during a Republic of Ireland press conference at the National Sports Campus, Abbotstown. Photo: Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland

Martin O'Neill says he already knows who his first-choice and back-up goalkeepers will be for Euro 2016, the only puzzle in the goalkeeping department being the identity of the third man.

As of now, thanks to his displays when called upon against Germany, Poland and Bosnia, Darren Randolph is the man in possession, as O'Neill all but admitted yesterday. But the keeper who seems to be O'Neill's second choice, Newcastle United man Rob Elliot, hopes to make the decision a tough one.

Elliot has yet to play in a competitive game for Ireland, in an international career which began way back in 2004 when he wore the Irish shirt for the first time, alongside Paul McShane in an U19 game on an April afternoon against Slovenia in a sparsely-attended Dalymount Park.

But his form with a Newcastle United side, albeit in a side which seems destined for relegation from the Premier League, has sparked attention at international level and he will start one of the two games over the next six days.

So now, does he sense that the position is up for grabs depending on the outcome of the next two friendly games?

"I wouldn't know. If I'm honest, I'm quite inexperienced in this group in terms of being that. Whenever any keeper has played since I've been here, they've been excellent," says Elliot.

"Shay Given's record speaks for itself, he's probably our greatest goalkeeper.

"We've got Darren, who has done brilliant whenever he's come in in the last few games and Fordey before that was fantastic in the earlier qualifying campaign.

"So the manager has a fantastic group of keepers to pick from and I think that's one great thing for us, that we're in such a strong position about who he picks that we're going to have not just a number one but a number two, three, four down the line. And it's up to us to make sure that it's a really tough choice for him."

History shows that Ireland's keeper was the busiest player on the park the last time Ireland played at the European Championship finals, Shay Given beaten nine times in three group games as Ireland tamely exited at the group stage.

With the second-worst goal difference in the Premier League, (only Aston Villa have been worse) Newcastle fans are used to seeing their keeper pick the ball out of the net and it's been a bruising season for Elliot at times. Yet the keeper, who turns 30 next month, has been around long enough to know what's truly important.

"I'm probably fine with it a little bit, because of where I was, and how low I was, pressure has become irrelevant to me. I went from so low and at a point in my career where I couldn't find a club to go to because I hadn't played and I'd been injured for six/seven months, you realise that it is just a game of football..

"My son was born: things like that in life make you realise that when the lows are so bad, you've got to enjoy the highs and you want to enjoy the pressure that comes with it, because the day when you're retired and sitting on your sofa, you'll never be able to get that sort of thing back.

"I just want to make the most of it and enjoy it and give a good account of myself. With the Premier League you don't just give it to your team mates, or the crowd, you give it to the entire world so I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I'm a good keeper. I just want to keep working and keep trying to impress."

He's had his woes, like his previous billing of fifth-choice keeper at Newcastle, with his career in the game in doubt, and in that he says he was driven by the lure of international football.

"It was probably at the forefront of my mind. At the time Newcastle didn't want me so the only thing I was clinging on to was that I had an outside chance with the Ireland squad," says the ex-Charlton player.

"Obviously there was a massive tournament coming up and we still had qualifiers to play. My thought process was to get fit and play as many games as I can. And it's happened but it's happened in probably the least expected way.

"The experience I've taken out of it is you have to keep working hard and keep your head right because you just never know what is going to happen in football."

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