“When I see Caoimhín doing well like that, it’s great, because it pushes me”

FROM THE COUNTRY that brought you Sexton vs. O’Gara comes the last of a new series, Bazunu versus Kelleher.

Press conferences held earlier this year with Kelleher weren’t complete without a few mentions of Bazunu, and the opposite proved true at Aviva Stadium on Monday.

Gavin Bazunu speaks to the press.

Credit: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Bazunu was speaking to the media as the Irish international squad come together to prepare for a double friendly against Norway and Malta to end 2022 and begin preparations for the year’s dreaded Euro 2024 qualifying campaign next.

It’s also a chance for the rest of us to wallow in our remarkable strength deep in goalkeeping, where Bazunu and Kelleher are also competing with Mark Travers, now back in the Bournemouth squad following a the injury of first choice Neto.

The final competition for the number one shirt is between Bazunu and Kelleher, however, and barring a last-minute injury, Thursday’s game against Norway will be the first match of the year for which both have been available.

After Travers’ debut in Serbia went sour, Bazunu was the first choice for the rest of 2021, but he missed the double friendly in March due to illness and then pulled out of the squad in June with an earlier problem. That meant Kelleher had six straight starts after being injured in early 2021, when the starting jersey could have gone to him rather than Travers in Darren Randolph’s absence. Kelleher then missed September’s Nations League matches through the injury which caused a slight spat between his managers, and Bazunu was reinstated in the starting line-up.

Stephen Kenny still insists there is no number one choice, perhaps to keep all three goalkeepers on their toes.

Bazunu, meanwhile, says he doesn’t feel like defending the jersey in training.

“No, I don’t really feel that,” he said. “I’ve just arrived here and whatever I’ve done before in club football, I arrive and just try to train as hard as possible by coming here.

“I’ve done all the work I could do so far and it’s the manager’s choice, whatever he decides to do. If I’m going to play, I’m just going to go out there and play the way I want to. I normally do. I don’t try to think too much about politics or what the manager thinks.

Bazunu admitted that Kenny had a headache, given the quality of caretaking available to him. The trio are working under coach Dean Kiely and Bazunu says the mood is good.

“We have a very good group between me, Mark, Caoimhín and Dean. We have a very good and solid group of goalkeepers. We’ve been working together for a number of years now and anyone watching the sessions will see that whoever plays, the other two will support. We all support each other and really enjoy training together.

Bazunu and Kelleher spoke briefly after last Saturday’s game at Anfield, in which Bazunu played all 90 minutes in Southampton’s 3-1 Premier League defeat. Kelleher watched from the bench – Alisson’s series of stunning saves accentuating his place in his club’s high pecking order – but days earlier he saved three penalties in a European Cup shootout win. the League against Derby, having scored the winning penalty in the final of the competition last season. .

anfield-liverpool-merseyside-uk-9th-nov-2022-carabao-cup-football-liverpool-versus-derby-county-caoimhin-kelleher-of-liverpool-save-the-decisive-penalty-kick-of-lewis- dobbin-of-derby-county-c

Caoimhín Kelleher saves a third penalty in the League Cup shootout win over Derby last week.

Source: Alamy Image Bank

“When I see Caoimhín doing well like that, it’s great, because it pushes me,” Bazunu said. “I would like to think that other people think the same thing: when I do well, I hope it pushes them. As a group, I want Caoimhín and Mark to play in the Premier League week after week. I want to play them in every Premier League game because that’s what’s special about your people, you want to support them and you want them to play at the highest level as well.

Bazunu left Manchester City in the summer to join Southampton, for whom he has been first choice all season, a status that has held up against their recent managerial change as Nathan Jones has given him the same level of trust as Ralph Hasenhuttl.

It’s been a tough season for Southampton – they’re 19th in the table, with the league’s third-worst defensive record – but you won’t be surprised to hear the unflappable Bazunu remain, well, unfazed.

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“It’s been two busy months, I enjoyed it. Learning to play Premier League football and adapting to the speed and level of the players has been really nice. It’s been hard work, and it’s a long way to go. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I seek to meet head on. On the inside [the club] we tried to see how we can be much stronger and more compact as a team and concede fewer goals. It’s the effort of the whole team and we have to keep working hard on it.

Asked to reflect on how the experience has improved his game, Bazunu replied: “I think there have been many different ways: dealing with the speed of the matches, but also the pressure, the crowd , to the scrutiny that comes with Premier League level. I just pace myself and enjoy every moment.

His confidence and poise also survived Ireland’s horrific Euro 2024 qualifying draw, which pitted them against the Netherlands, France, Greece and Gibraltar. His first reaction to the draw? Excitement.

“I want to play against the best in the world. I want to challenge myself against the best, to see the quality of the nations [paired with Ireland] was exciting.

“It’s the anticipation of going up against these players and knowing that if these guys are the best in the world, they’re the best to compare themselves against. If there had been an easier draw sometimes, that may add even more. more pressure. Playing against the best is where we all want to be.

One such top player Bazunu won’t be tested against this week is Erling Haaland, who, having recently missed playing time through injury, was left at home by Norway for Sunday’s friendly. with Finland (i.e. the game they have to sell tickets for.)

“As a player, I want to face the best quality of opposition possible. But as I said before, they have a lot of other quality players that they will have available to them on Thursday.

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