Given just keen to get on with it
SOCCER: Mary Hannigantalks to the goalkeeper, who is preparing for his 107th cap against Russia tomorrow night
WHEN HE made his international debut against Russia 14 years ago Shay Given was struggling at the time to get first-team club football, unable to oust England’s Tim Flowers at Blackburn Rovers, before moving on to Sunderland on loan. At just 19, though, the situation was hardly grave, time – and plenty of it – was on his side.
Now 34, Given, preparing for his 107th cap against Russia on Friday night, is understudy to another England goalkeeper, Joe Hart. He has less patience for his current predicament, though, his frustration mounting after appearing in just one of Manchester City’s 12 games since the start of the season.
He has always, he says, cherished his international career, but never more than now, the games against Russia and Slovakia next week his chief source of motivation for the last month when there has been no real prospect of dislodging Hart.
“Yeah, definitely, these games have got me through training, they’ve been a big focus for me so I’ve been working really hard,” says Given.
“Of course it’s been frustrating, it’s a tough time for me, but I’ll just keep going. And I’ve had to work at it because you’ve bad days, it’s tough at the minute,” he adds.
“I suppose you can think too much about it, not that I’m a great thinker. You can over-analyse things, you can dig yourself up every day about it, but this is the situation I’m in and I just have to get the head down and get on with it.
“You never know what’s around the corner so you have to keep focused as best you can, keep training hard and hopefully you get a chance somewhere down the line.”
A move in the January transfer window seems likely, whether on loan or in a permanent deal, with Given frequently linked with Celtic, Newcastle, Fulham and Arsenal, while Giovanni Trapattoni has been talking up a move to Italy’s Serie A.
That’s another day’s work, though, says Given, “I don’t want to talk too much about Man City, I’m really focused on these games coming up.
“And we know how important they are. The players and fans alike are really hungry to get to a major championship, desperate to get there – I’m not getting any younger and I know I don’t have many campaigns left, so I’d really like to qualify for this one.”
“We were so close in the last campaign, which made it hurt even more, but the younger players have a lot more experience now, so we’ve got that good mix.
“But we’ve probably said that the last couple of campaigns – we just need to cross the line to get qualification.”
He remembers his debut well, not least because “we lost 2-0, which wasn’t a good start”.
“It’s a good few years ago now, a few wrinkles ago, but it was a special night for me, I had lots of family, friends and cousins there. Roy (Keane) got sent off that night, it was Mick’s first game in charge.
“I had the privilege of playing with Paul McGrath, which was extra special, but we had a lot of great players in that team.
“To be mixing with guys like that was fantastic. Great memories.”
Mention of “Roy” is a reminder of comments from the Ipswich manager last week when he complained about Brian Murphy’s exclusion from the Ireland quad – despite the fact the goalkeeper has been dropped by Keane for the club’s last two games.
“But I don’t think Shay Given’s playing regularly,” he pointed out, adding that “certain players seem to get picked all the time”.
Given smiled, in a “here we go again” kind of way.
“Years gone by people got hammered for not turning up for friendlies, now you get hammered for turning up. It’s a no-win situation, if you ask me. And I don’t pick the team, it’s down to the manager.
“I’ve said from day one, every time you’re called up for your country it’s a special moment and that should never change – be it a friendly or a competitive game. Other people have different feelings and opinions and that’s their entitlement, but that’s how I feel.”
“And it is a privilege to play for Ireland. I watched the Ryder Cup and I saw the pride and honour those guys had in representing Europe – it was fantastic for them getting across the line, I was cheering every putt.
“You speak to the rugby guys and they’re delighted to play for their country.
“Other players have a different philosophy and don’t want to play for their country. That’s how they look at it – but it’s not the way I look at.”
He has no thoughts either, for now at least, about calling a halt to his international career to allow him focus on club duties.
“No, I just want to keep playing for as long as I can. I look across the city at Edwin van der Sar, he’s still flying and he’s turning 40 this month. David James was 40 and was at the World Cup, so I do believe I’ve lots of years ahead of me. I feel pretty strong and pretty fit.
“There may come a time when I might have to focus on my club game because I’m getting on in years, but at the minute I feel fine, I feel good. And, obviously, I’m well rested,” he smiled.