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Randolph rides to Republic's rescue


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Darren Randolph kept a clean sheet and set-up Shane Long’s winning goal on his first competitive appearance for the Republic

He’s the County Wicklow-born goalkeeper with US roots who became the Republic of Ireland’s unlikely Euro 2016 hero on Thursday night.

Darren Randolph made his first competitive appearance for the Republic, coming off the bench to replace the injured Shay Given against world champions Germany.

By full-time, Randolph was celebrating an incredible victory – he’d kept a clean sheet, and set-up Shane Long for the winning goal.

His assured performance may have surprised many fans – but not his father Ed, who first came to Ireland as a professional basketball player in Belfast in the early 1980s.

“Nothing fazes him,” he said. “When I saw he was coming off the bench, my heart was in my throat.

“That moment will be etched in my mind forever,” he said. “My heart skipped a beat when he got off the bench – when he strapped on the gloves, I got emotional.

“But he just takes everything in his stride.”

It is a quality Darren most likely inherited from his Florida-born father.

Ed Randolph signed for Sporting Belfast in 1982 after playing college basketball at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

‘Bombings and shootings’

At the time, the sport was enjoying a boom period in Ireland.

Ed was one of the first professional US players to be imported into the growing league – although he admits he didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into.

“I got a call from a guy called Fergus Woods, they wanted to bring me over to play and after I spoke to him I called my brother,” he said.

“When I told my brother I might play in Ireland, my brother asked me: ‘Is it Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland?’

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Randolph is also an Irish basketball international and played rugby and GAA as a youth

“I asked him why, and he said: ‘Uh Ted Koppel, ABC News, Londonderry, bombings, shootings, murders…’ – so I called Fergus back and asked him if it was in Northern Ireland.

“He cut me off and said: ‘Look Ed, none of that stuff ever comes into sport here.’ So I agreed to come over.”

When Ed landed in Belfast, he said it was “just like a movie”.

“There was fog, mist, sheep grazing on the side of the road on the way from the airport” he laughed.

‘Scared’

But the atmosphere in Belfast, just a year after the hunger strikes, was extremely tense – as Ed and his teammates were soon to find out.

“We were coming back from a game in Belfast when this dark Ford Cortina swerved in front of our car and stopped us,” he said.

“These guys wearing all-black with Uzis got out of the car. Immediately, I thought: ‘I’m going to die.’ My life flashed before my eyes.

“I mean we were all big guys from outside of Ireland, but we were scared.

“It turned out they were looking for someone else and they let us go – but the whole thing made a big impression on all of us.”

Coming from Tallahassee in Florida, Ed said he was accustomed to segregation and conflict among communities but nothing could prepare him for Belfast.

“I left in Christmas 1983 to play in Liverpool and I slept a lot better,” he admitted. “But I did enjoy the city, in particular the people. They were fantastic.”

‘Accidental goalkeeper’

Ed returned to Ireland later that decade and played with various clubs across the Republic of Ireland, before marrying and having his son, Darren, in 1987.

Now working as PE teacher and basketball coach, he says Darren’s sporting potential was obvious from an early age – he played Gaelic football and rugby to a high level as a youth and even became an international basketball player for Ireland in 2003.

But his goalkeeping career started almost by accident.

“He had gone to play with some friends, and the keeper didn’t show up” Ed said. “So Darren went in goal. Next thing, the team want him to be the goalkeeper.

“The coach would even say to me: ‘Look, I’ll come round and get Darren, you don’t have to worry about dropping him off.’ They really wanted him there,” he said.

His career since has taken him from the youth ranks at Charlton Athletic to West Ham, via Motherwell and Birmingham City, and now to the international stage, where he looks set to become a cult fan favourite.

Some even took to social media after Thursday’s heroics to compose a chant in his Randolph’s honour – Randolph the Red-Booted Goalie.

The 28-year-old now looks likely to start in goal when the Republic take on Poland on Sunday, where a win will see them qualify for Euro 2016.

“What happened on Thursday hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Ed. “But Darren will just take it one step at a time and if the management decide to play him on Sunday, he’ll be ready.”



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