Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher grew up dreaming of scoring goals, not stopping them… now he’s between the sticks in the Carabao Cup final against rivals Chelsea as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp insists he ‘deserves it’
- Jurgen Klopp has confirmed Caoimhin Kelleher will start Carabao Cup final
- The 23-year-old insists he will treat it like any other match he plays for Liverpool
- This has been Kelleher’s breakthrough season as he is competing with Alisson
No sooner had Jurgen Klopp issued some very early team news, Caoimhin Kelleher found his phone buzzing like never before.
It was the morning of January 21 and Liverpool had just secured their first trip to Wembley in six years.
Klopp had made it clear that Kelleher, his back-up goalkeeper, would be given the gloves for the big day against Chelsea, not Alisson Becker.
Caoimhin Kelleher will start for Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Saturday
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has confirmed Kelleher ‘deserves’ to start at Wembley Stadium
‘I don’t see any reason why we should not do this,’ said Klopp. ‘He deserves it. He brought the team here.’
Inevitably, family and friends back home in Cork began making their requests for tickets but the twist to this tale was that Klopp’s public declaration caught Kelleher by surprise as much as anyone.
The softly-spoken and unassuming 23-year-old laughs about it now but his pride at being afforded such responsibility is equally clear. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, a moment he does not intend to let pass.
‘I’ll just be relaxed and calm and try to prepare like any other game,’ says Kelleher, a Republic of Ireland international.
‘There will be some nerves. A little bit of nerves is good. I’ve played a few games and had chances to show my ability. I’ve been happy with what I’ve done so far and now have a final to look forward to.’
He should be happy. Kelleher was the hero of the dramatic quarter-final triumph against Leicester, making two saves in the penalty shootout, and arguably enjoyed his best game for Liverpool when keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal in the semi-final.
The 23-year-old insists he will prepare for the final like he would for any other game
This has been his breakthrough season. A measure of how far he has come can be gauged from the fact that there is not the slightest hint of reservation from his team-mates that Alisson is on the bench for a game of such significance.
They believe in Kelleher, with his safe hands, smart feet and slick distribution.
That he finds himself between the posts, however, is down to a quirk of fate. He grew up with dreams of scoring goals rather than saving them and had it not been for some sibling intervention, this journey could have followed a completely different path.
‘I was a striker for my team and I liked to play in goal with my friends and brothers, just messing about,’ says Kelleher.
‘Then the keeper for the team left so I wanted to give it a go… Obviously it has worked out well!
‘I did OK in the first game but it was more that I really enjoyed playing in the position. I took a love to it and kicked on.
‘It wasn’t too long after becoming a goalkeeper, maybe six to eight months, that clubs would come looking and wanting to take me on trial.’
Liverpool took Kelleher from Ringmahon Rangers in 2015. There have been moments when it looked like he might have to move for his career to flourish but studious goalkeeping coach John Achterberg persisted and implored Klopp to keep faith. That faith has not been misplaced.
Liverpool signed Kelleher from Ringmahon Rangers in 2015 and it’s been a slow journey to the first-team action for the goalkeeper
‘I have a lot to thank John for in that respect,’ says Kelleher. ‘I know for sure I would not be here if it was not for him.
‘He wants a goalkeeper who is very good in every area so he has developed every aspect of my game.’
The one thing Achterberg wants on Sunday, however, is for Kelleher to give him a reason to be added to a mural that he commissioned for a wall at the club’s Kirkby training base.
On it are images of the 13 goalkeepers from Liverpool’s history who have lifted trophies. Achterberg wanted it to be inspirational and it is proving to be just that for Kelleher.
‘There are absolute legends up on that wall so just to be up there would be an honour for me,’ he says. ‘I always had belief I could get up to the first team but this? It’s still a really nice moment.’
Diogo Jota is winning his race to be involved in Liverpool’s cup final squad.
The Portugal forward, who damaged ankle ligaments 10 days ago, must come through two more training sessions without reaction if he is to be considered for a starting spot.