Given ready to come out fighting


HIS IMPORTANCE is easily gauged from the concern that greeted reports of his injuries over the last couple of weeks, but Shay Given insists he is “100 per cent” fit ahead of Ireland’s critical encounter with Spain tomorrow night and determined to help the team make amends, not just for Croatia, but also for that World Cup defeat of a decade ago.

The fitness of the long-time Irish number one had been the source of huge speculation in the lead up to last weekend and there were those afterwards who questioned whether Giovanni Trapattoni had really been right to stick with him after the knee and thigh problems that had restricted his training in Dublin and Italy.

The 36-year-old, though, is adamant that his performance during the game itself was in no way hindered by any lack of fitness.

“Ideally I’d have liked to have trained more over the last couple of weeks, but it’s fine,” he says. “Did it affect me? Not really, no; I wouldn’t have played if I wasn’t 100 per cent, so I was fine.

“The first goal I just saw a bit late. There were a couple of the lads sort of blocking my view and by the time I saw it I didn’t react quick enough or get enough to take it around the post. The third goal has just hit me smack on the forehead. It probably would have been better if I hadn’t dived, it might have just come out, but it’s easy in hindsight to say that. You’ve got to try and save the shot. There’s nothing you can do.”

None of it, in the end, was his fault and yet against Spain he will inevitably want, and most likely need, to do better if Ireland are to rescue themselves from elimination. Ten years ago, he recalls, he was disappointed with his own contribution as Ireland lost out on penalties to the same opponents “when it felt like we should have won it. The problem is that they’ve come a long way since then and so it’s going to be more difficult for us now than it was then.”

Even on its own, though, a clean sheet would be enough to give Ireland a chance of progressing when they face Italy in the last round of Group C games next Monday and it might even provide the basis for the unlikely victory that must be Ireland’s ultimate aim, suggests the goalkeeper.

“Yeah, we can hurt them, hopefully. We certainly won’t be trying to get everybody behind the ball,” he says. “We’ll try and cause them some problems as well. One of the biggest things will probably be set-pieces. They’re renowned for maybe not being the biggest team in the competition and we’ve got some big players in our team, so if we get some of the right deliveries in there, as we saw against Croatia with the goal we scored, we’ve got the players who can get onto balls in the box.

“We hope this situation will bring the best out of us – I can only tell you on Thursday night or Friday morning. Sometimes in the past when everyone has given up on us we’ve come out fighting and proved that we’re a decent team and we have to do that again.”