Gavin Bazunu comfortable racking up game time in League One for now

Ireland goalkeeper knows a decision will have to be made whether to return to City

The minutes do not lie. Game time repeatedly informs Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny that the Championship is the ideal standard for his players.

The alternative is a drop down to League One, the third tier of English football, where Gavin Bazunu and Troy Parrott look some way above the level this season. Same goes for the FAI's newest recruit, Will Keane.

Alternatively, accept zero minutes in the Premier League, glued to the dugout like Caoimhín Kelleher at Liverpool or Adam Idah and Andrew Omobamidele at Norwich City or Aaron Connolly at Brighton, Matt Doherty at Spurs and Jeff Hendrick at Newcastle United, who bucked the trend with a first start of the season and neat goal during Saturday's defeat to Wolves.

Nathan Collins also made his Premier League debut for Burnley.


But the outliers nowadays are Séamus Coleman commanding regular game time, when fit, at Everton and Shane Duffy’s career renaissance back in the Brighton fold.

The true core of Kenny's squad, however, are Championship stalwarts like John Egan at Sheffield United and Dara O'Shea, when fit, at West Brom, even if they were the only two from England's second tier to start in Portugal.

The rest of that XI was made up mostly of Premier League reserves, Anderlecht regular Josh Cullen, Jamie McGrath at Scottish Premiership strugglers St Mirren and Bazunu.

Parrott and Bazunu have proven on loan moves from Spurs and Manchester City that League One is not where internationals should be plying their trade. But the 19-year-olds need exposure, so MK Dons and Portsmouth were deemed the best environments.

For now. Bazunu realises that Kelleher’s current lot at Anfield, where the 22-year-old has only played 90 minutes this season, albeit a stellar performance against Norwich in the Carabao Cup, a night when Idah’s stock took a tumble, might well become his fate next season.


"That's the difficult possible next step to my career where I have to make a decision there," said Bazunu after Ireland's first training session in Abbotstown ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan. "I've not made a decision on that yet but my priority will always be to try and get as many games as I can because at the end of the day I don't want to be sitting on the bench, I want to be out playing week in, week out if possible.

“But if the best thing for me is to be in or around the squad learning every day and training with Xabi (Mancisidor), if that’s my best opportunity to become Manchester City number one then I’d have to consider that in the future yeah.”

Ireland's young goalkeepers must have witnessed the magnificence of Brazilian duo Alisson Becker and Ederson during Sunday's blockbuster 2-2 draw on Merseyside with equal amounts of delight and apprehension.

“I’m working towards it, definitely,” Bazunu smiled when Ederson’s delicious ball leading to Phil Foden’s goal is mentioned. “He’s a special goalkeeper, the way he has changed modern goalkeeping, so there’s a lot of positives I can take from his game and try to add that to mine.”

It sounds ridiculous but, in theory, based on club form and levels, Mark Travers should be Ireland's number one goalkeeper. The Maynooth native has proved instrumental in Bournemouth's unbeaten rise to the top of the Championship with four clean sheets, and only conceding eight goals in 900 minutes of football.

But Bazunu saved a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty before a freakishly impressive night against Serbia that established his name in Irish culture.

“I just want to kick on and have another moment like that.”

He also has 900 minutes clocked a rung below Travers, to Kelleher's zero minutes in the Premier League and Champions League behind Alisson.

The same numbers apply throughout Kenny's squad; the Championship being the ideal existence for Callum Robinson to score three goals and bag three assists in 627 minutes for West Brom as opposed to Premier League obscurity for Idah and Connolly, who will join the group late after recovering from illness.


"My opinion was always game time," Bazunu repeated, "that was most important and it's why I went on loan to Rochdale and now Portsmouth. I'm 100 per cent sure that I wouldn't be anywhere near the position I am now without having that backing of games and having that experience and this confidence, just because of the amount of games that I've got under my belt."

Manchester City are fully tuned to his progress. Not a game for Portsmouth or Ireland passes without City goalkeeping coach Xabi Mancisidor offering technical feedback.

But Kelleher’s career path appears to be flawless; having become Jurgen Klopp’s second choice, the chances should come but there is no guaranteed that the seasons won’t tick by, as Bazunu gathers up all the minutes.

“It’s really down to the players, different players have different aspirations and goals,” said Bazunu. “It can be difficult for some players to be in the Premier League and struggling a bit whereas some players in the Championship are really thriving.”

Being a Premier League player at all cost comes with the reality currently visited upon relegation favourites Southampton, Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich - the four clubs without a win from seven games this season account for the majority of Kenny's top flight players.

“My personal opinion,” Bazunu added, “is that you should always try and play at the highest level you can.”

All in good time.

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City on loan to Portsmouth), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa on loan to Sheffield United), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest on loan to Charlton Athletic), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Jason Knight (Derby County).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur on loan to MK Dons), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United).