It took almost 5 years for the Iad from Cork to make a prominent mark in the Liverpool first team. Although there’s not much surprise in that, considering his current age (22). Signed as a 16-year-old from the Irish club Ringmahon Rangers in April 2015, Caoimhin Kelleher(pronounced Kwee-veen/ equivalent to English Kevin) joined the Liverpool Academy at Kirkby with a 4-year contract, when Simon Mignolet was the 1st choice goalkeeper of the main team, with Adam Bogdan and Danny Ward as the 2nd and 3rd choice goalies, under manager Brendan Rodgers, and later, Jürgen Klopp for that season.
Liverpool’s Goalkeeping struggles under manager Klopp (2015-2018)
In the 2016-17 season, goalkeepers Loris Karius and Alex Manninger were signed from German club Mainz 05 and FC Augsburg respectively, to provide better depth in the reserve goalkeeping department. The previous reserve goalies Adam Bogdan and Danny Ward failed to impress and were loaned out. Mignolet played the majority of the games, and managed only 11 clean-sheets in 31 appearances, whereas Karius had 6 clean-sheets in 16 matches, in all competitions.
The next (2017-18) season, saw Mignolet becoming error-prone, and was gradually sidelined by the then 27-year-old German, Loris Karius, who eventually managed 17 clean-sheets in 33 appearances overall for the Reds. However, Karius’ fantastic first season as the first-team goalkeeper came to an end along with Liverpool’s brilliant goal-stricken season in a tragic manner, when 2 individual errors from Karius cost Liverpool their 6th Champions League title that season. Even after those howlers, repetitive errors from Karius in the pre-season friendlies, made Liverpool loan him out to the Turkish side Beşiktaş for gaining more game time. In the meantime, impressed by the performances of the Brazilian keeper Alisson Ramses Becker, in their match against AS Roma in the Champions League, Liverpool decided to sign him in the summer transfer window, for £67m as a 25-year-old, a record fee for a goalkeeper at that moment.
A ray of hope with the new signing, and the transfer of Kelleher to the first team (2018-19 season)
In the 2018-19 season, the new recruit Alisson Becker showed his worth and class, in his first season itself. He filled the void which Liverpool lacked in the defence, a solid goalkeeper. In the league, He featured in all the 38 matches and kept 21 clean-sheets. Although, Liverpool fell short by a point that season to champions Manchester City, the performances of Alisson impressed everyone. He also gave a match-winning performance against Napoli in the final match of the group stage, against FC Barcelona in a vital semifinal clash and also in the final against Tottenham, which made Liverpool win their most awaited trophy under Klopp and their 6th UCL trophy. His performances clearly showed how much difference the safe hands of a goalkeeper can make to a match’s result. In that season, Alisson took the limelight away from ex-goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who became 2nd choice goalie and only featured in the cup matches, but his performances had deteriorated too much by then.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher signed a new contract with Liverpool in that season. He, at that time, played regularly for the Liverpool Academy team and also trained with the first team alongside Alisson, Mignolet. Klopp referred to Kelleher as an ‘outstanding talent’ and transferred him to the first team after the new contract, as the third choice goalie behind Alisson and Mignolet. Although, He didn’t make a competitive appearance that season but did feature in the pre-season friendlies against Manchester United and Manchester City as a half-time substitute and played decent games. However, bench appearances in the UEFA Champions League saw him earn a winner’s medal that season as a part of the winning team.
The goalkeeper problems persists with the new signing (2019-20 season)
In the 2019-20 season, Simon Mignolet left for Club Brugge to play 1st team football, and as his replacement Adrian Miguel, the 33-year-old Spanish goalkeeper was signed as a free agent, to play as 2nd choice goalkeeper. Kelleher, still inexperienced and too young to play competitive football, remained a 3rd/4th choice goalie with the signing of another free agent goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
The new signing Adrian didn’t have to wait for much time to make it into first-team football when Alisson injured himself in the first league game of the season against Norwich while taking a goal-kick. His injury was long term, and it saw Adrian take his role as the 1st choice keeper for the time being. However, despite being a good shot-stopper, and being a hero to the Liverpool fans after saving the final penalty in the shootout against Chelsea in that season’s UEFA Super Cup, Adrian was too much error-prone, and was far behind Alisson in terms of ball distribution and composure. Even his errors caused a defeat to Liverpool against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16, and saw the defending champions out of the competition, bringing back memories of goalkeeping horrors from the same competition, 2 seasons ago. Although, the goalkeeping frailties didn’t stop Liverpool from winning the Premier League in that season.
The 2019-20 season was the first time Caoimhin Kelleher featured in a competitive game for the Reds in the Carabao (League) Cup, in his debut against MK Dons as he kept a clean sheet. He also provided decent performance against Arsenal in the next round but, conceded 5 goals due to poor defence. However, He became a star of the show that night when he saved Dani Ceballos’ penalty in the shootout. After that, an FA Cup game against Shrewsbury Town saw Kelleher give decent performances, and leave a mark on the minds of Liverpool supporters.
The breakthrough of Kelleher in 2020
Despite being better than Adrian in many aspects, Caoimhin Kelleher remained as the 3rd choice goalie for the 2020-21 season for Liverpool. With the Liverpool supporters still horrified with Adrian’s bloopers last season, 1st choice goalie Alisson again got injured at the beginning of the season, leaving Adrian and Kelleher as the 1st and 2nd choice goalies. The poor display from Adrian continued, when Liverpool lost a league game against Aston Villa 7-2, away from home. Klopp, however, kept his faith in Adrian and started him in all the matches including a UCL game, until Alisson returned. Soon after, Alisson got injured in training for the 2nd time in the season, after playing 6 games after recovering from the 1st injury. This time, however, Klopp made the Irish 22-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher start instead of Adrian.
Kelleher made his European debut against Ajax and impressed everyone with a 100% save rate (4 shots against), 71% pass accuracy, 2 claimed crosses and a clean sheet. The following matchday in the league, He featured against Wolverhampton and showed a similarly impressive performance and kept a clean sheet with 70% passing accuracy, in front of 2000 Anfield fans, who returned to the stadium after almost 10 months.
In his 3rd game this season, He played against FC Midtjylland in the UCL matchday 6, and in front of him was an experienced pair of centrebacks. Despite that, He yet again showed his class and made 5 brilliant saves that day, again proving his talent. Although He couldn’t keep a clean sheet that night, his performance got praised yet again.
Until now, Kelleher has some impressive top flight stats in this season in the League and UCL combined :-
- Appearances- 3
- Clean Sheets- 2
- Goals conceded- 1
- Saves- 12 ( 85.71% success rate)
- Claimed Crosses- 3
- Passing Accuracy- 67.65%
- Successful Distribution Rate- 91.66%
It was evident that the manager is starting to trust Kelleher. Adrian, who might now have become the 3rd choice goalie has expressed that he’s happy for the young guy to play in his place, and He’d guide him as far as possible with the experiences he earned in the Premier League, with West Ham and Liverpool.
Kelleher has shown he is a far better distributor of the ball as a goalkeeper than Adrian, and it was important, considering the style of football Liverpool play. He’s young, talented and promising. His reflexes saved Liverpool many times in the 3 matches he played this season so far. Up until now, his stats are also impressive, and It seems he can provide safe hands for his team in Alisson’s absence. He won the UCL 2018/19, Premier League 2019/20 and UEFA Super Cup 2019 being the 3rd choice goalie. Now only time will tell if he can win silverware being the 2nd choice or even 1st choice goalie, as he has the talent to do so. He has he all the potential to be Alisson Becker’s substitute and his performances so far with Liverpool have proven that and will continue to do so for the remaining season.
What is your opinion on Caoimhin Kelleher? Who do you think will win this fixture? Let us know in the comment section below.