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Saturday 7 December 2019

O'Hara is ready to step up to the mark

Kieran O’Hara is ready to play against Denmark if required after his full debut today
Kieran O’Hara is ready to play against Denmark if required after his full debut today

For a goalkeeper to concede 11 goals in the space of a week for a club struggling at the foot of England's lowest division is a stern test of character, asking if you have the ability and the desire to play at a high level.

Kieran O'Hara, in line to win his second senior cap for Ireland against New Zealand tonight, took that test. He'd argue that his presence in the Ireland squad, and the fact that he's still under contract with Manchester United, shows that he has a bit of both.

And even though he faces the unenviable task of trying to show that he's a better goalkeeper than David de Gea and Darren Randolph, the Manchester native with Galway roots says he has the confidence to get him over that line.

"I wouldn't still be doing what I am doing if I didn't believe in myself to play at the top level," says O'Hara, currently on loan from United to League One side Burton Albion.

"I have never shied away from that, that's the goal, I believe I can achieve that. Everyone wants to take what they do to the very top and I am no different.

Working with De Gea has helped. "He's a fantastic goalkeeper and it's put me in an amazing position to learn from someone like that at the very top level, it's helped my development to train with him and learn from him."

Ousting de Gea at Old Trafford is a long-term project as United tend to bring in their keepers from outside instead of promoting their home-produced ones, but O'Hara is close to the main stage with Ireland.

Should anything happen to Darren Randolph between now and Monday night (given Keiren Westwood's absence) O'Hara is next up to play in goal.

And it could happen: Randolph was a rookie (internationally-speaking) when he was called from the bench to replace an injured Shay Given in the first half of a must-win Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Germany. Randolph has not missed a competitive international since then.

"You never know what is going to happen in football. It's a crazy game so you have to be ready and prepared in training and mentally ready for whatever is thrown at you," says O'Hara, when asked if he could fill in for Randolph if needed.

"As a kid, you grow up with it being a high-pressure position, so it's nothing new being put into a big game so I definitely feel comfortable and I back myself every day. I believe in myself and I know I am good enough, it wouldn't faze me at all."

There are various staging posts in his career. Joining Manchester United as an eight-year-old, his first pro contract and character-building spells on loan (Morecambe, Stockport, Macclesfield, Burton).

There's also the Irish element. Trips back to his grandparents' home place in Galway, attempts by his dad to get him to play GAA in Manchester, his first Ireland cap, at U21 level (alongside Declan Rice) in 2017.

"When we were younger my Dad tried to get me to play a bit of Gaelic football. It was good, as a goalkeeper it kind of suits you playing with your hands. It's something I enjoyed but it comes to a time when you have to choose," he says.

A loan spell at Macclesfield last season was a harsh lesson (he conceded 20 times in six games at one stage) but life in mid-table with Burton is easier, his reward is a place in the Irish team tonight.

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