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Reserve role may not be enough to keep penalty-king Kelleher long-term

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By Thomas Hein

If the first and second penalty shootouts Caoimhin Kelleher helped Liverpool to win were down to the luck of the Irish, then what about the third and, now, the fourth?

The Republic of Ireland international and the Reds’ number-two keeper is making a name for himself as a specialist at saving penalties and helping Liverpool win crucial shootouts.

Kelleher was the penalty hero once again in Liverpool’s Third Round League Cup game against Derby, saving three spot-kicks to help his side to a 3-2 penalty shootout victory and earn a place in the next round where they will meet Man City.

The Corkman, who was last seen in a Liverpool jersey striking the decisive penalty himself as Liverpool beat Chelsea to win the League Cup last year, now holds the club record for saving the most penalties in shootouts (6) having surpassed Pepe Reina (5).

His latest match-telling contribution means Liverpool can still retain the trophy they won for a record ninth time last season. Back in Kelleher’s homeland, the , understandably, view Man City as the outright favourites to win this season’s EFL Cup and, in doing so, equal Liverpool’s record haul of nine. 

December’s fourth-round clash between the two will go some way to deciding who goes on to collect the trophy.

And should the game be level after ninety minutes the Reds will be confident of another shootout victory, especially with Kelleher in their corner.

However, for all the plaudits Kelleher receives for his penalty-saving exploits, there will come a time when the 23-year-old will want to become more than just a goalkeeper who plays in the cups and saves spot kicks.

Sooner or later, Kelleher will want to play regular first-team football and test himself on a weekly basis. 

It’s fair to assume that that opportunity won’t come at Liverpool anytime soon; Alisson has just turned 30, which for a goalkeeper is still relatively young.

Also, as good as Kelleher is, Alisson is renowned as one of the world’s best and, barring a drastic loss of form or serious injury, is Liverpool’s first choice for the foreseeable.

What’s more, it goes without saying his winning streak will come to an end at some point. Then what? Will playing second fiddle be enough?

For some players, it is. But with Kelleher you sense it won’t be.

It raises the question of whether the current number two will have to leave Liverpool to harbour ambitions of becoming a number one. Former Reds and Ireland striker John Aldridge sympathizes with his fellow countryman’s predicament and concedes this could be the situation that indeed plays out.

It’s a situation not uncommon of course in the Premier League. Dean Henderson has sought first-team elsewhere having been unable to oust David De Gea at Man United.

Emiliano Martinez grew tired of waiting for his chance at Arsenal and found regular first-team football at Aston Villa instead.

Of the most recent examples, and perhaps the most significant for Kelleher, is that of Irish teammate (and direct rival for the Republic of Ireland no.1 spot no less) Gavin Bazunu swapping the subs bench at Man City for regular first-team action at Southampton.

Having come through the ranks at Anfield, Kelleher would’ve probably known that, eventually, he’d be forced to make a tough decision for the sake of his career. But that time may come sooner than he thought.