Gavin Bazunu believes Ireland’s youngsters key to future success

Have faith in young players, says teenage goalkeeper who saved Portugal star’s penalty

The naysayers can still point to Stephen Kenny's record as Republic of Ireland manager. Andorra stands alone as the only win from 14 matches in charge and disaster in the Pyrenees was only averted by a teenage striker who has yet to feature in the heroic defeats that continue to dog the Dubliner's time at the helm.

Troy Parrott might bring his goals and deft touches for MK Dons this season to the Aviva Stadium when Azerbaijan bring spectator-led football back to Dublin on Saturday evening.

Kenny turned to James Collins ahead of Parrott in the closing stages of Wednesday's unforgettable defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, but to avoid the same scenario after losing 3-2 to Serbia last March, when a jaded Ireland were beaten 1-0 by Luxembourg three days later, then either Adam Idah or Aaron Connolly could be replaced by Parrott this weekend.

“We were potent with Aaron and Adam really stretching Portugal and causing them problems,” said Kenny of his workaholic centre forwards. “It would have been an incredible victory.”


By adding that some key figures are not playing regularly for their clubs so “when they give it their all like that it is difficult to go again”, Kenny is making a direct reference to Idah and Connolly.

The fear also exists that Ireland will repeat an old habit of struggling to lift themselves against fellow minnows.


Kenny's ability to manage the national team might still be doubted – not that he seems to care anymore – but he nailed the selection against Portugal, fielding a side with an average age of 24. That dropped again when 19-year-old native Andrew Omobamidele made his debut as a replacement for Dara O'Shea after the West Brom centre-half damaged his ankle in a crunching foul on Diogo Jota.

Omobamidele would probably be established in the Norwich City team this season if not for a bout of tonsillitis. He is expected to neatly cover O’Shea’s growing international presence.

Concerns about fellow teenager Gavin Bazunu seemed justified when his second nervy pass forced Jeff Hendrick to hack Bruno Fernandes, only for the boy from Firhouse to save Ronaldo's penalty. It was no fluke either.

“Whenever I come into a game I try to research the penalty takers and make my decision before the game,” said Bazunu. “I try to watch videos of every single player I’m likely to come up against. It was no different for this game, myself and [Ireland goalkeeping coach] Dean Kiely had spoken about it before the game as to what would happen if there was a penalty.”

Turns out the 36-year-old maestro tends to go left.

“Yeah, my feeling was that he’d go that side, depending on his run up, but I stuck to my gut and was happy to make the save.”

As was the rest of the country.

"It was definitely my fault for the penalty," admitted the Manchester City player currently on loan to Portsmouth. "As soon as it was given I had to forget about it because it's not a goal, just a penalty. I obviously had the chance to right my wrong and I was happy to be able to do that."

Bazunu, much like the technically excellent performances by Matt Doherty and Josh Cullen, appears to have established himself as Kenny's first choice. Liverpool's Caoimhín Kelleher cannot expect to shift the former Shamrock Rovers man while sitting behind Alisson Becker at Anfield.

‘Have faith in us’

“No, not at all,” Bazunu replied to the idea that he is Ireland’s resident goalkeeper. “Every training session I come into I feel that I have to prove myself again, not just to the manager but to myself.

“I always go into training sessions never being content being the so called number one. I feel that I have to work for my sport every time that I set foot on the pitch.”

Idah is only 20, Connolly 21, O’Shea 22 and Jamie McGrath – who St Mirren scrapped tooth and nail to keep during the transfer window – is just 24.

“I would say there is a lot of young players in the squad, a lot of new names, a lot of people making their debuts,” Bazunu continued. “I think you just have to have faith in us.

“You see the way we have played against one of the best oppositions in the world. We were on the defence a lot but I think we showed we could cause them a lot of problems. We had a lot of chances in the games ourselves. So just to stick with us and have faith we are doing the right things.”

The 19-year-old already sounds like an old hand.

“When there are games coming up thick and fast you have 24 hours to feel, I suppose, heartbroken and it is gut-wrenching. After that you just have to get over it and focus on the next game because there are six points to play for.”

On they go, finally playing in front of 25,000 Irish fans if the FAI manages to sell 50,000 tickets for Saturday and Serbia on Tuesday.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent