Keiren happy to play game of patience
THIS is a long-term project for Keiren Westwood. Goalkeepers must engage survival mechanisms which are altogether different from other footballers. Otherwise they would go quietly mad.
Humour helps and Westwood is a cheerful soul. Not unlike his coach in the Irish set-up, Alan Kelly. Instantly likeable and open, he is a good addition to the squad mix and has time on his side.
Much has been written over the years about the singular eccentricity of the goalkeeping species, and it does take a certain kind of masochist to pursue a career in professional sport which is focused on such a small niche.
But once a footballer turns to the dark side, pulls on a pair of gloves and works hard at the most unnatural act possible for outfield players, he must quickly learn about waiting and, unless he's lucky or just good, apply his new knowledge during long periods of inactivity.
Westwood is certainly good according to most assessments, and he has his club situation cracked. First choice for Coventry, he has been the subject of plenty of speculation, most notably linking him with a move to Everton.
"I must have said this a thousand times: speculation is speculation," said Westwood. "I can't do anything about speculation and I suppose the club can't do anything about speculation.
"Maybe it's just a little feather in your cap that you are doing well and people are speaking about you, but there are no bids, there's nothing like that. Speculation doesn't make you move clubs."
Nor does it put you ahead of a player like Shay Given in the pecking order. But he knows that his status within the Irish squad is that of seat warmer until Given is back and fit again.
That said, Given has already raised the possibility of retirement in 2012 and there's always the chance that he won't be quite right for the start of the season. If Giovanni Trapattoni gets nothing else out of the two weeks other than game time for Westwood, he will consider it time well spent.
So that's Westwood's lot. Body double and understudy for a star, with a chance of promotion in two years if Given retires, which he probably won't.
Not that he seems to mind for the moment, though, it might be a different matter if Given is still around for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
"It was good to get a game. Any game is fantastic," said Westwood when asked about Paraguay. "Whether it is a training game, we are all happy to be here and looking forward. We have a great bit of banter together. It is close-knit, this group, and that will bode well for the future."
"September is a big time, but hopefully we will get Shay back by then," he said before making his own pitch. Will he be ready if the call comes?
"I would like to think so. I've just got to keep working as hard as I've been doing.
"I am 25 years old and I've been playing first-team football since I was maybe 19 now.
"I've played a lot of games and I am delighted with how it has gone, really. I've gone from being at a big club like Man City and getting released at 18, 19 to the Conference with Carlisle and working my way back up.
"I am happy where I am, but it is progression and I need to keep going. I won't rest on my laurels now.
"Shay is a fantastic keeper, but he is a great guy as well. He helps me on the training pitch as much as he can, which is a massive benefit for me."
"You do have to be patient, but he is there because he is the best and people do have to wait their chance. You have just got to do as you are told."
Westwood walked himself into a bit of headline handbags when he first made himself available for Ireland with the catchy introductory phrase "I'm not Irish as such, but I'm a good Catholic boy."
There was much chest-thumping among those who dislike the granny rule and all it implies, but even more from those who were championing the cause of then Bohemian Brian Murphy, who shared time with Westwood at Manchester City and is now in the same Irish squad.
But context was clearly needed to make a reasonable judgement on Westwood, and the game against Paraguay provided some.
Westwood has a pre-match routine which involves a short prayer to friends and family before kick-off, a habit which saw him beached at the wrong end of the pitch when he opened his eyes in the RDS on Tuesday night.
"I just say a little prayer -- I've done it since I started. It's just something I do, just people from the family who have passed on and to God. It's something I've always done since I started playing."
Many players have similar routines but not many would admit it in such an easy and open manner. He obviously picked up the habit within his family and maybe, by extension, from his Wexford roots. With that in mind, he was only telling the truth when his "good Catholic boy" quote emerged, even if it was ill-judged.
His deeds have already cancelled out the foolish words. Contrast him with Jamie O'Hara, who is keeping his options open but will only declare for Ireland as a second choice.
Westwood was tipped as a potential England No1 around the time he was offered a chance to declare for Ireland but, rather than hedge as O'Hara is doing, he jumped straight in.
Brian Murphy followed him into Trapattoni's squad and there is now real competition behind Given which may finally be resolved in two or three, or maybe four years' time. By Westwood's count, it might even take longer.
"Shay is 33, he is fantastic; David James is a good goalkeeper and he is, what now, 40? David Seaman, Peter Schmeichel -- they were all really old before they finished, and they were at Manchester United and Arsenal, and they were really big goalies."