Sport

Republic of Ireland keeper Darren Randolph has no regrets over West Ham exit

Jonathan Walters trained with the Ireland squad for the first time this week on Thursday and hopes to be fit for Saturday's clash with Georgia
From Damian Spellman in Tblisi

DARREN Randolph will head into the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier in Georgia admitting he had to leave West Ham to preserve his international career.

The 30-year-old keeper hopes to win his 23rd senior cap in Tbilisi tomorrow evening as Ireland bid to cement their grip on one of the top two spots in Group D, but will do so having completed a summer move to Middlesbrough.

It may have been a difficult decision to swap the Premier League for a Sky Bet Championship promotion fight, but having been told by Hammers boss Slaven Bilic that loan signing Joe Hart would be his number one this season, Randolph did not have to think twice.

He said: “It was made clear that he was going to play, so when it’s put to you as bluntly as it was, there’s no point in me staying.

“I wanted to be playing games so I had to get out. I couldn’t expect to keep playing (for Ireland) if I’m not playing at club level, so that was definitely a factor.”

News of Hart’s impending arrival signalled the start of a race between Randolph and Spaniard Adrian, the man from whom he had taken over during the second half of last season, to leave West Ham, and it was the Irishman who got over the line as Boro came calling in July.

He said: “I heard about Joe Hart coming in at the end of last season. I went away on holiday and then came back to Ireland for the Austria game.

“It was clear he was going to sign and that there was a race to see who could try and get out of the door first.

“I just think with the situation we were in, they weren’t going to let both of us go. They would have had to keep one and then let one go.”

A run of three clean sheets in his first five games for Boro has underlined Randolph’s quality, and he will be favourite to retain the starting berth in Martin O’Neill’s team at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena despite Newcastle counterpart Rob Elliot’s return to fitness.

He said: “You need that in every team, competition in every place. Rob being back adds more quality and more competition.

“I’ve had a good enough start – three clean sheets out of five – so I’m happy with that. We’ve had two wins, two losses and a draw, so that could have been better – but it could have been a lot worse.”

If a swift return to the Premier League is the overall priority at club level this season, Randolph’s eyes are set firmly on next summer’s World Cup finals with Ireland in a strong position to qualify.

The next few days could have a major say in their destiny with group leaders Serbia due in Dublin three days after the Georgia game, and the keeper knows they currently have control of their own fate.

Randolph (above) said: “We’re in a very good position. It’s still in our hands, which is nice. We’ll concentrate on Saturday and move on from there.

“It (Georgia) seems a tough place to go. For me personally, I’m not bothered about the performance as long as we get the win and get points on the board, especially at this stage of the group.”

Jonathan Walters was on the plane with the rest of the squad when it flew out to Tbilisi yesterday afternoon after training fully for the first time this week.

The 33-year-old Burnley striker has been nursing an ankle injury which kept him out of his club’s Premier League clash with Tottenham on Sunday since joining up with his international colleagues.

However, he was able to train fully for the first time to increase manager Martin O’Neill’s hopes that he will be fit for tomorrow.

There was good news too for O’Neill at the back with 117-times-capped Sunderland stopper John O’Shea returning to training after sitting out on Wednesday with a tight calf muscle.

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