WHEN MICK MCCARTHY named the first final squad of his second spell as Ireland manager on Thursday, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of a little-known teenage goalkeeper from Maynooth.
Some critics might have expected Kieran O’Hara, the Man United goalkeeper on loan at Macclesfield Town, or Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher, both of whom had featured in previous squads, to get the nod.
In the end, however, it was Mark Travers who was called up alongside the more experienced Darren Randolph and Keiren Westwood.
“I thought it was better off taking a younger one [as the third goalkeeper], so I took Mark Travers and Stephen [Kenny] wanted Caoimhin Kelleher and that was his choice,” McCarthy explained at the squad announcement.
And unsurprisingly, Travers sounds enthused about the prospect of linking up with the national side for the next 10 days.
“I’m looking forward to working with the likes of Darren Randolph and Keiren Westwood, which should be great for me and just take as much onboard as possible and learn from the whole experience,” he tells The42.
“I found out [about the call-up] earlier in the week. I got a phone call from the FAI just to let me know.
“I rang the family straight away. Everyone was buzzing — a really proud moment.
A few weeks or months ago, the aim was to get into the 21s squad and then to get into the provisional was obviously great, but to get the phone call that I was in the main squad, it was a bit of a shock to be honest, but it’s an opportunity that I’m looking forward to taking.”
This week’s news comes less than three years after a 17-year-old Travers made the life-altering decision to move to England and link up with Bournemouth.
Despite hailing from Kildare, he spent a number of years as a youngster at Dublin side Lucan United. Short stints at Cherry Orchard and Shamrock Rovers U17s followed, helping the former win an All-Ireland title, before the Premier League club came calling.
Leaving behind family and friends was not easy, nonetheless Travers persevered.
“Going the year later at 17 was maybe a bit easier, I was more experienced after being at Shamrock Rovers,” he explains. “Everyone’s in the same boat really, leaving family and friends, but football’s the number one priority, you’ve got to focus on that. Everyone’s only a phone call away, so it’s not too bad and they come over semi-regularly. It’s always tough at the start, but it’s my third year now, so it just keeps getting easier. Football’s the main focus, so that keeps you busy at all times.
“My parents were a big influence. I took the decision to stay in Ireland for the U17 year, that was a big decision, so I could grow and work with a top club in Ireland, Shamrock Rovers.
“There was a few [offers] after the Cherry Orchard year. I just felt personally that maybe I wasn’t ready to take the step yet. I decided to go to Shamrock Rovers for a year. It turned out to be a really good decision for me. It gave me that experience to get ready and prepare myself to come to England.”
Moving to Bournemouth in the summer of 2016 after impressing on trial meant not sitting his Leaving Cert, a decision that Travers acknowledges was a “risk,” but one he hopes to justify ultimately.
“Sometimes, you just have to take the opportunity in football. I finished fifth year in Maynooth Post Primary School. It was a difficult decision — to come to Bournemouth, I couldn’t turn it down. It was a tough one for me and my family, but we decided it was a risk we had to take to come over to England and finish school a bit earlier and go over without a Leaving Cert.
“When I came over here, I did a B Test in the end, so I have some qualifications anyway if it comes to it, which hopefully it won’t.”
Source: Weymouth Football Club/YouTube
The early signs are certainly promising. Travers hit the headlines as far back as 2017. Making his debut on loan at seventh tier English outfit Weymouth, with the match against Bishop’s Stortford finely balanced at 2-2, the youngster scored a spectacular winner, lobbing the opposition goalkeeper from well inside his own half.
“I just had a go from distance and luckily it went in,” he recalls.
“That was my first senior appearance. To win the game was great but to even score was a different feeling altogether, a great memory.”
And since then, Travers has continued to make encouraging progress.
Last summer, Bournemouth rewarded the Ireland underage international with a new long-term contract.
“You have to work really hard to catch up with the players here and get up to the speed of things,” he says. “But to sign the second contract was massive. It gives you that bit of security to try to do your best. It helps on the field when you know, off the pitch, you’re a bit more secure.”
Currently third-choice goalkeeper at the club behind Asmir Begović and Artur Boruc, while he has yet to appear for the Cherries’ senior side, Travers has trained and travelled to games with the first team and is in regular contact with boss Eddie Howe. A loan move next season is a possibility as the 19-year-old bids to increase his experience of first-team football, though for the moment, he is focused on his commitments for Bournemouth at underage level.
The 21s try to play out as much as possible, so that was the biggest thing I had to work on when I came over — working with the feet and playing out from the back. It’s definitely a part of my game that’s come on in the last few years — something that I feel quite comfortable with and enjoy.”
And while barring an injury crisis, Travers won’t play in the upcoming Ireland matches against Georgia and Gibraltar, he is determined to relish an experience he would have scarcely imagined himself in three years ago when he was going to school in Maynooth and trying to balance football with his studies. This week, he will share a dressing room Premier League stars like Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy and legends of Irish football such as Robbie Keane and McCarthy, who was more than three years into his first stint as Ireland manager in May 1999 – the month Travers was born.
“You’ve got to work really hard to get to this position,” he concludes. “Just don’t let bad situations beat you up. Keep focused on football. Stay dedicated off the pitch as well. When you go back to digs, you have a lot of time on your hands, so doing the right things on and off the pitch is probably the main thing. And just stick to it — sometimes, you’re going to go through bad periods with family as well, being away is not easy, but just keeping the head and staying focused on the football is the main thing.
“There are going to be loads of lows in football and I’m probably going to experience a lot more, but this week is definitely the high point so far.”
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