Forde making the most of changed Irish landscape and increase in opportunities
David Forde is hoping to build on his four caps for the Republic of Ireland, especially with the current Irish number one, Kieren Westwood, warming the bench at Sunderland. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
SOCCER:The Millwall stopper feels he’s in the best shape of his footballing life, writes EMMET MALONE
They never came close to displacing Shay Given as the Republic of Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper but as he named his squad for the friendly game against Poland last week Giovanni Trapattoni strongly suggested that Keiren Westwood and David Forde are doing enough these days to keep the Donegalman in retirement.
Westwood has been the most obvious beneficiary of Given’s departure and must have wondered how the Italian would react when the long-time number one said over the Christmas that he was available to return again.
Forde insists that life at club level teaches a goalkeeper to accept the events that he can have no hand in but there’s no denying that things have changed for the Galwayman with Trapattoni’s decision to consign Given to history at 36.
The Millwall player is now firmly in the frame to play in each and every Ireland game with just one man standing between him and a starting spot. There is a downside too, though. At 33, recent events might be taken as a reminder that time is running out if he wants to complete the final stage of what has, to date, been a scenic journey towards the top of his profession.
“I’ve been a late developer in my career,” he readily acknowledges. “Hopefully it’s still not too late for me to get to the Premier League. I’m still hoping to achieve that. Staying involved with the Irish set-up, getting some more caps and getting to the Premier League, they’re the ambitions for the next few years.”
For much of his career such lofty targets must have resembled pipe dreams with the former Galway United and Derry City player suffering several setbacks as he tried to make even a fairly modest breakthrough in Britain.
More than once he seemed set to crack it but spells in the Barry Town, Barnet and Cardiff City first teams ended in disappointment and on a couple of occasion he came home to pick himself up and turns things around.
When he moved to the New Den in June 2008, those watching from a distance might have been forgiven for anticipating more frustration. Forde, though, says he always believed and fortunately this time so did Kenny Jackett, the club’s Welsh manager who reckoned the Irishman’s time had come.
“I’ll always be grateful to the manager for believing in me,” says Forde, who also credits the goalkeeping coach, Tony Burns, with playing a major part in his late emergence. With the pair’s support, he played 100 first-team games in barely two years and he’s approaching twice that number at this stage.
Injury ended a long run of consecutive appearances after which loss of form meant that he had to watch as veteran Northern Ireland international Maik Taylor got a run in the side. Having earned his third cap against Oman in September (more than a year after that memorable second against Italy in Liège), however, he got back in and within a week Millwall had put a poor start to the season behind them to embark on a 13-match unbeaten stretch that placed them firmly in contention for a play-off spot.