Gloves Off in Battle for Irish Number One

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With Liverpool’s signing of Simon Mignolet, we thought the door had opened for Keiren Westwood to reclaim the goalkeeper’s jersey for both club and country. However, Sunderland’s recruitment of Vito Mannone puts the pressure back on the Irish international who has watched from the sidelines as David Forde has grown into his role as Ireland’s ‘keeper of the faith.

The resignation of Shay Given after Euro 2012 left a gaping hole in the Republic of Ireland backline, compounded by Richard Dunne’s long spell ion the treatment table.

Having shipped nine goals at the Euros, the miserly defence on which Giovanni Trappattoni had secured qualification, had crumbled. Despite Given’s generally accepted poor showing in Poland, Ireland had still lost a genuine world-class goalkeeper.

1021988-16504015-640-360Keiren Westwood stepped between the posts but a humiliating defeat to Germany was followed by his inability to break into the first team at the Stadium of Light where Mignolet shone.

The Manchester-born shot-stopper was urged by his international manager to leave Sunderland during the January transfer window but his failure to secure a move has seen him replaced in the Irish shirt by Millwall’s David Forde.

Now Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio has signed Italian 25-year-old Mannone from Arsenal following Simon Mignolet’s £9 million move to Liverpool.

Mannone has agreed a two-year deal with the Black Cats having spent eight years with the Gunners and will compete directly with Westwood for the first team slot.

David Forde’s journey to the international summit came via the League of Ireland, with Galway and Derry, and the unfashionable Cardiff and Millwall but since given his opportunity, the 33-year-old has grasped it with both gloves.

Impressive in his debut game, a stand-out friendly victory over Italy in Belgium last year, Forde was entrusted with starting the crucial March qualifiers with Sweden and Austria.

A deflected injury-time winner from Austria’s David Alaba rendered Forde helpless as Ireland surrendered the play-off initiative in World Cup qualifying but the end-of-season series of games has boosted Forde’s standing no end.

david-forde-rises-to-collect-the-ball-2232013-630x426He’s a different type of goalkeeper to Shay Given, less agile, less mobile but where he literally towers over his predecessor is in his ability to claim crucial crosses from the air to relieve pressure on the usually under-fire Irish defence.

Forde made exceptional saves against both England and Spain and bolstered both his own, and the crowd’s, confidence with each passing game.

Giovanni Trapattoni has urged Forde, who has a year left on his contract, to seek a move to the Premier League ahead of the new season but new MIlwall boss Steve Lomas is determined to keep him.

“I know Fordey from when he was a young kid at West Ham and all credit to him. He didn’t get an opportunity so he went back to Ireland, he had the right mentality and then came back with Cardiff….It certainly would have to be a hell of a bid for us to even contemplate getting rid of David Forde.”

Forde has been linked with Hull City where there is a sizable Irish contingent moving to the top flight. One of the favourites with bwin to go straight back down, Tigers manager Steve Bruce will be determined to shore up his defence.

It remains to be seen if Westwood will stay and fight for his place at Sunderland. The side flirted with relegation in the last campaign.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s third choice Darren Randolph has moved to Birmingham from Motherwell where he spent three seasons.

There’s also the matter of Shay Given’s reversal of his decision to retire. He is another Irish ‘keeper looking for a move before the start of the new term.

From Trapattoni’s point of view, Forde is in the driving seat ahead of September’s crucial qualifiers but there may be further twists and turns in the goalkeeper department as the new Premier League season kicks into gear.

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