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.
He refuses to be drawn on the contrast with the fortunes of Westwood at Sunderland, where the current Irish number one is a long-term fixture on the bench, but remarks: “I think I’ve been doing very well. I’m happy with what I’m doing. I just hope that it’s been noted.”
There’s certainly no sense of injustice on his part. “I’ve been long enough waiting for it,” he says. “And there were times alright when I thought the day would never come but for the moment it’s just great that I’m involved. To be in there, challenging Keiren along with Darren [Randolph] . . . it’s a dream come true really.
“I suppose it [his eventual rise] is down to a bit of everything, including luck. But I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been now fitness-wise and I am a far better goalkeeper now than I was 10 years ago. Back then it was all about the potential that I would have had where as now I think I’ve fulfilled a lot of that potential.” He talks about learning to settle for “controlling the controllables” over the course of his career. Given, he acknowledges, was understandably unhappy with the way the European Championships went but, “maybe, looking at it afterwards, he may have thought he’d made a rash decision”.
Forde, however, can only do his best to make the most of the changed landscape and the increased opportunities it might bring. And on other fronts, events outside of his control may have conspired against him playing in the Premier League next season, something that might be expected to influence the pecking order at international level.
Much of their momentum was lost, he believes, when strikers Chris Wood and Darius Henderson departed for Leicester City and Nottingham Forest respectively, with the pair having scored 25 goals between them at that stage.
“Them going took a lot of goals out of the team alright,” he says. “But we played very well on Friday night against Villa (in the FA Cup; a game they won 2-1), that was a fantastic result for us. We know the potential is there.
“We’re a very young side but if we can stick together another unbeaten run like the one we managed early in the season there’s no reason why we shouldn’t challenge for those play-off places.”
He could almost be summing up Ireland’s ambitions in this World Cup qualifying group, a road on which, he insists, there is still a long way to go. “The main thing,” he says ahead of Wednesday’s friendly with Poland, “is for us to get back to the sort of form we showed pre-Euros, to start showing again what we can do.”
He might get another opportunity against the Poles to show what he personally can do too. If the last few years are anything to go by, then the chances are he’ll take it.
Long-term goalies second-string number ones
With Paddy Kenny and Joe Murphy out of favour with the current manager and most likely too old for the next one, most medium- to -long-term goalkeeping options have plenty of promise but struggle to get enough first-team action.
The Irish number three did the rounds in the English lower leagues during loan spells from Charlton Athletic, where he never quite managed to establish himself. The 25-year-old moved to Motherwell in July 2010.
Perhaps the most highly-regarded of the next generation, the Dubliner (24) caught the eye at Portsmouth during the first half of last season, at which stage West Ham signed him.
Has yet to play a league game for them but recently had a 16-game run on loan to Ipswich Town and rejoined them during the transfer window after a permanent move to Blackburn Rovers collapsed.
Appeared to make his big breakthrough at Birmingham City in 2007 when he displaced Maik Taylor and helped the team to promotion. Having started the following season in the Premier League poorly, he lost his place and has been back-up to Jack Butland, who will leave for Stoke next season.
Made his league debut as a 17-year-old almost a decade ago while on loan from Charlton Athletic at Notts County. Played about 100 games for Charlton before heading to Newcastle United in 2011, where Tim Krul established himself as the first choice. Elliot and Steve Harper have, at least until recently, taken turns to sit on the bench.
Did well at Ipswich Town after his move from Bohemians but turned down the offer of a new contract, preferring what was reported to have been a far more lucrative deal at QPR . When the club started spending bigger money he slipped down the pecking order.
The big 22-year-old New Yorker expressed a willingness to declare for the Republic of Ireland last year and an attempt was made to call him up to an under-21 squad. The New York Red Bulls refused to let him travel but his form from then until he was injured in the autumn will have done little to dampen the interest.
A possible starter for Noel King’s under-21s against the Netherlands next week, McCarey joined Wolves from Monaghan United a couple of years back and got a run of first-team games for Walsall while on loan there .
Having been let go by Arsenal last summer, the Norwegian-born teenager, who is also in the Ireland under-21 squad, returned to top flight side Sandnes Ulf . He was quickly thrown into the first team and played six games before the end of the season.
The 28 -year-old has had spells at Northampton Town, Blackburn and Leicester City before arriving at Norwich, where he has played regularly since replacing the injured John Ruddy. Though he qualifies to play for Ireland through his paternal grandmother, and has declared his interest in doing so , things have yet to reach that stage.