Darren Randolph is the Irish American who burst to fame with one mighty kick in Dublin on Thursday – this Sunday he holds a nation’s soccer dreams in his hands when the Republic of Ireland take on Poland in Warsaw.

But the 28-year-old goalkeeper who earns his trade as a back-up at Premier League West Ham United is so much more than that. He is the American dream in reverse.

Irish coach Martin O’Neill won’t name his team until an hour before kick-off in the final European Championship qualifier but he has already confirmed that Randolph will start.

And the news will be as celebrated in Tallahassee and upstate New York as it will be in the player’s hometown of Bray in County Wicklow.

Three decades ago American collegiate basketball star named Ed Randolph led the transatlantic invasion that reinvigorated the hoops game in Ireland.

The parents of Shane Long and Darren Randolph chat to #RayDarcy http://t.co/j3r9zo4c6S pic.twitter.com/oqhAgzgJZi

— RTÉ Player (@RTEplayer) October 10, 2015
On Sunday the man who now earns his living as a basketball coach and teacher across Dublin will sit nervously in front of his television screen as the Republic chase the win that will guarantee qualification for next year’s finals in France.

Across the pond Darren’s brother Neil, on a basketball scholarship at Elmira College, and the family at his dad’s home place in Tallahassee will take their seats and cross their fingers.

Until 8.25pm Irish time last Thursday night Darren Randolph was still eligible to play for the United States team he supported from his Wicklow armchair at the last World Cup finals in Brazil.

Then manager O’Neill took him by surprise and sent him into battle with the world champions Germany for his competitive debut when legendary custodian Shay Given was injured.

Early in the second-half Randolph hit a huge clearance almost a hundred yards up the pitch and fellow substitute Shane Long hit the back of the German net with the goal and the 1-0 win that revived Italia ‘90 all across the land.

Now Randolph will play against group rivals Poland in the game that will decide who goes to France automatically and who goes into next month’s Euro play-offs.

For his American dad it is all so different to the first time he came across his own Irish dream in 1982 at a time when thousands were sailing the other way across the Atlantic Ocean.

A college basketball star at the Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, he signed for the Sporting Belfast side before moving to the top clubs in Dublin where he now coaches the game he loves.

Belfast back then was a different place. In an interview with the BBC website, Ed Randolph explained: “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.

“When I told my brother I might play in Ireland, my brother asked me: ‘Is it Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland?’ 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 I landed in Belfast, it was just like a movie. There was fog, mist, sheep grazing on the side of the road on the way from the airport.”

A year after the hunger strikes, Northern Ireland was a tension filled land in 1982 as the incoming American basketball pros soon found out.

Ed explained: “We were coming back from a game in Belfast when this dark Ford Cortina swerved in front of our car and stopped us.

“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.”

Randolph left Belfast for Liverpool and then Dublin and went on to settle in the Wicklow town of Bray. He got married and in 1986 a future Irish sporting hero called Darren was born.

Sport came easily as his son grew. The youngster played GAA for his local team and went on to play basketball for Ireland. His soccer career was almost an accident.

“He was going to play with some friends and the goalkeeper didn’t turn up so they asked Darren to take over,” revealed his proud dad. “He was so good they wanted to play him there every game. The coach even offered to collect him and drop him home if he’d play in goals.”

Like father, like son. A professional life on the road soon followed for Darren. A trainee with Charlton, he has moved on to Motherwell in Scotland and Birmingham in England before the move to West Ham last summer that has secured his financial future.

National allegiance will take center stage on Sunday when Randolph goes head to head against Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, the hottest property in world football right now.

But Randolph is as big a hero to the traveling Irish as Lewandowski is to the Poles. That assist for Long’s goal on Thursday night has ensured he will never have to buy a drink in Ireland again.

“It all came as a big surprise,” said Darren ahead of Sunday’s game. “I was one of two goalkeepers on the bench when Shay got injured and even when I was told to warm up I thought David Forde would be sent on.

“It happened so quick and I suppose that helped. It is something you dream about and think about so to be part of it is brilliant.

“We’ve got a chance to qualify now and it is a dream come true for me. If we win we go straight through or if we get a 2-2 draw or higher. It’s not the worst scenario that we are guaranteed the play-off. It’s in our own hands.”

A long kick assist from Precision GK @Randz587 helped @FAIreland beat world champs Germany tonight! Congrats Randz! pic.twitter.com/drvth1tu9n

— PrecisionGoalkeeping (@PrecisionGk) October 8, 2015

Darren Randolph will guard Ireland’s European hopes in Poland.Wikimedia