Will-he, won’t-he play in the European Championships?
Keiren Westwood has been handed the Republic of Ireland ‘number one’ jersey - but it would be foolhardy to think that the Sheffield Wednesday ace is shoo-in to start in his country’s Group E opener against Sweden next Monday.
Under Republic boss Martin O’Neill, Westwood has played a grand total of twice. His last outing came a year ago in a friendly with England.
Why - I hear you ask - has one of, it not the best, goalkeepers outside the Premier League played just 61 minutes of international football in the last two and a half years? Why is he still stuck on 18 caps?
In the past, O’Neill has openly questioned his commitment and reliability, claiming Westwood has withdrawn from a “number of squads, not just in my time but I think he did it before”.
O’Neill, who worked with Westwood at Sunderland, said: “Naturally, it’s a concern but I think it’s something...you need a bit of reliability. I think that is very, very important - important for anyone you are studying or wanting to bring into the squad.”
It is true Westwood has pulled out of quite a few squads due to injuries. But following his inclusion in O’Neill’s travelling party for France last week, Westwood angrily denied claims he has refused to travel to Ireland for 10 days at a time just to sit on the bench after losing his starting spot. “The only reason I wouldn’t be in the squad is because I was injured,” he said. “If you are injured you are injured, and there is not much you can do about it.
“Sheffield Wednesday pay the wages, don’t they? So I am their player. So they are saying ‘you’re carrying injuries here, what’s going on? You can’t go’ and this, that and the other. So I am caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Ultimately, Westwood edged out Millwall’s David Forde in the battle to go to France. His stellar displays against Brighton and Hove Albion and Hull City would have almost certainly strengthened his case.Darren Randolph and Shay Given complete O’Neill’s goalkeeping options heading into the tournament.
I appreciate Randolph and Given are two experienced shot-stoppers and play at the highest level. Maybe that will give them the edge in the duel.
But given his fine club form, Westwood doesn’t deserve to be sat on the bench twiddling his thumbs and watching the action unfold this summer. He’s the Republic’s most in-form shot-stopper. Surely you play guys at the top of their game?