Stephen Kenny wants fledgling Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu to experience battle amid a hostile atmosphere as he attempts to steel him for September’s World Cup qualifiers.
The 19-year-old Manchester City keeper, who spent last season on loan at League One Rochdale, was handed a senior debut for his country in March’s World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg with number one Darren Randolph and Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher injured, and has retained his place since.
However, asked if the uncapped Kelleher, 22, would get his chance in Tuesday night’s friendly against Hungary in front of a partisan crowd at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest, Kenny admitted he had a big decision to make.
He said: “I’m Caoimhin’s biggest fan. He played in the Under-21 team 10 times. Had he been fit in March, he would have started, it’s fair to say, for the qualifiers.
“Gavin Bazunu’s come in and just been absolutely excellent. Sometimes you take your chance.
“I’m cognisant of that, but I would like Gavin to get some time in front of a crowd, a passionate crowd before our next game – Portugal away – because he’s not played in front of a crowd all year.
“At club level, there have been no crowds, so I would like him to experience that. I would like Caoimhin to get some game-time as well, I’m anxious to do that as well.”
Bazunu won his third senior cap – and tasted victory for the first time – in Thursday night’s 4-1 win in Andorra behind a defence marshalled by Sheffield United defender John Egan, who has been hugely impressed not only by the teenager, but also Kelleher and 22-year-old Bournemouth keeper Mark Travers.
Egan said: “Having trained with him over the last week, you can really see how good he is. But all three keepers, to be fair, Caoimhin and Trav as well, there is really strong competition there.
“Gav, for someone so young to play in that position especially – it’s probably the most scrutinised position on a football pitch – it’s fantastic to see his composure and ability. You wouldn’t be contracted to Manchester City if you didn’t have ability.
“He’s a top young keeper and top young talent. Hopefully he can keep improving and the sky is the limit for Gav, really.”
Bazunu is one of a series of young players to have been handed their chance by Kenny, 19-year-old Tottenham striker Troy Parrott also catching the eye with two goals against Andorra, and Egan admits they have dealt admirably with the pressure of the step up.
He said: “It’s kind of mind-blowing because people have got to realise what age these guys are. They are so young. To be playing at this level at that age is unreal.
“They have just got to try and take the pressure off themselves somehow. With social media these days, they probably can’t get away from it, so it’s tough. But the age of all the lads coming through, all the young lads, it’s fantastic for Ireland, it’s exciting.”