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How Caoimhin Kelleher rose the ranks to become Jurgen Klopp's trusted pair of hands for Liverpool

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From being a highly-rated striker in Cork to starring in the Champions League... how Caoimhin Kelleher rose through the ranks to become Liverpool's trusted pair of hands in Alisson's absence - and he only played his first match in goal at Under 14s!Caoimhin Kelleher was Liverpool's star man against Ajax on Tuesday evening The 22-year-old deputised for the injured Alisson and made string of top savesThe Irish goalkeeper was actually a talented young striker until Under 14s But a suggestion from his father quickly saw him rise the ranks as a goalkeeperHaving made his full debut last year, Kelleher could be Jurgen Klopp's new No 2 

When Jurgen Klopp rushes over to give you one of his famous bear-hugs, you know you've made a difference - perhaps even been the star man. 

On his first start in the Champions League, Caoimhin Kelleher's display in goal for Liverpool against Ajax on Tuesday night confirmed the Reds' spot in the knockout-stages - in Alisson's absence, the 22-year-old Irishman performed superbly. 

Assured with his feet in a match where keepers had to be composed on the ball with two teams who pressed high, Kelleher did not look out of place marshalling what is a largely makeshift Liverpool back-line. 

Caoimhin Kelleher kept a brilliant clean sheet in Liverpool's win against Ajax on Tuesday night 

The 22-year-old keeper received a massive hug from manager Jurgen Klopp after the match

Most memorably, however, the Republic of Ireland Under-21 international pulled off a string of excellent saves; in the first-half from Noussair Mazraoui and with three minutes to go from a point-blank Klass-Jan Huntelaar header destined to ripple the back of the net.

It was a stunning reflex save - to preserve a clean sheet no less and secure top spot in Group D for a Klopp squad riddled by injuries currently. 

Kelleher's rise has been rapid. He signed for the Reds as a 16-year-old after impressing at youth-team level for Ringmahon Rangers, a small club in Cork in the west of Ireland. 

Kelleher's late save from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's header displayed his excellent quick reflexes

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— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) December 1, 2020 CAOIMHIN KELLEHER FACT-FILE Age: 22Position: GoalkeeperClub history: Ringmahon Rangers (youth career), Liverpool (2015-current, 5 caps) International history: Ireland U17s (2014-2015, 1 cap), Ireland U19s (2016-2017, 8 caps), Ireland U21s (2019-current, 10 caps)  Advertisement

In fact, the Irishman was originally a top striker at youth-team level and only trialled in goal at Under-14 level, after a suggestion from his father Ray. 

'Our goalkeeper had decided to quit, so Ray, Caoimhin’s father, rang me one night and just said, "what do you think about putting Caoimhin in goal?"' said Eddie Harrington, Kelleher's former coach at Ringmahon Rangers, speaking to PunditArena in 2019.  

'We were like, "what are you on about?" at the start because we didn’t want to lose him, he was that good outfield. 

'His Dad just said "look give him a try see what you think," so we threw him in and his first game was against Springfield Ramblers at home and he got lobbed by a cross-shot but he was excellent and he never looked back, he was in goal then forever more.' 

From scoring 20 goals a season and being part of the Cork Kennedy Cup squad - a schoolboy footballer's tournament full of the best youngsters in Ireland - to four months later starring in-between the sticks and being part of that same squad at the other end of the pitch, the change in direction to Kelleher's football career was dramatically quick. 

He played for Republic of Ireland Under-17s in the 2015 U-17 European Championships in Bulgaria, before joining Liverpool's academy that summer. 

Kelleher impressed for Ireland in the 2015 U17 Euros before joining Liverpool's academy 

But it was under Klopp when Kelleher first entered the first-team fray two years ago.  He was part of the squad which toured the United States in the summer of 2018, signing a new and improved deal at the club later in August. 

Though he did not make a first-team appearance in Liverpool's memorable 2018-19 campaign, he emerged as Liverpool's third-choice goalkeeper, behind Alisson and Simon Mignolet. 

Training regularly with one of the world's best goalkeepers and a senior international certainly honed Kelleher's game, to the extent that he was named on Liverpool's bench for the 2019 Champions League final against Tottenham. 

Picking up a winners' medal, he became the first Irish footballer to win the Champions League in over 10 years, and 12th ever. 

Kelleher has learnt his trade alongside one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Alisson 

Kelleher was on the bench as Liverpool won the Champions League against Tottenham in 2019 

Progress on the pitch was to follow. He was Liverpool's keeper in the EFL Cup last season, making his competitive debut in the third round win against MK Dons, and starting in subsequent matches against Arsenal and Aston Villa. 

But the purchase of Adrian last summer on a free transfer meant Kelleher was down the pecking order, and he was linked with a loan move away from the club earlier this year, with Preston North End reportedly interested. 

However, he stayed put and the hard yards on the training ground with goalkeeping coach John Achterberg seem to have paid off, after he was surprisingly handed a starting role at Anfield on Tuesday night. 

The Irishman celebrates after Liverpool's victory against Arsenal in last season's Carabao Cup

Another injury to undisputed No 1 Alisson Becker meant a spot was open and Klopp explained why he opted for the youngster instead of the more experienced Adrian. 

'In this game, we needed the natural football-playing ability of Caoimhin and because he’s a really good shot-stopper as well. We made that decision and then you never know. 

'All the boys are calm in the moment when they get the information, but there’s a difference to be there on the pitch and I’m really happy with how he dealt with it and how calm he was and how good he was.' 

Handed his chance to shine, he very much delivered. Now, with Alisson set to miss at least two weeks of action due to a hamstring injury, opportunity beckons for Kelleher over the next few weeks to cement a spot as Klopp's No 2. 

Kelleher was composed with his feet during Liverpool's victory in the Champions League

Kelleher is now battling to be Liverpool's No 2 goalkeeper with experienced Spaniard Adrian

Speaking about his European debut, Kelleher said: 'It was amazing for me to make my debut. Obviously, the most important thing was to get the win. Thankfully I was able to make a few saves. That's what I'm there for.'  

Modest but brimming in confidence, a place in the starting XI against Wolves on Sunday - and with it a Premier League debut - would be the ultimate indication that Kelleher has cemented his spot as Klopp's No 2.  

Given Alisson's injury record in the past 18 months, Tuesday could be the first of many memorable occasions under the Anfield lights for the Irishman.  

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