Friday 28 October 2016

Shay Given: I can't wait for German test

Ireland vs Germany: 2 days to go

Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

The sight of Bayern Munich's players chugging giant-sized beers, in public and unashamedly so, at Oktoberfest last week was more proof, if needed, that the football world in Germany is not like ours.

If Irish players allowed themselves to be photographed with stein glasses of beer so big that Wes Hoolahan could probably fit into one, we'd have howls of indignation, with someone like Mick Loftus heading into full-blown Helen Lovejoy mode.

The Bayern players were on the beer, and for a good chunk of this Euro 2016 campaign, it seemed like the entire German squad were still on the lash after their World Cup success last year.

But now, they mean business. The post-Rio hangover has cleared and Joachim Low's side arrive in Dublin tomorrow with their game faces ready for Thursday.

"They started the campaign not so good after the World Cup and people said that maybe it was a hangover," admits Shay Given, who will be in goal on Thursday night to face that all-powerful German side, as he's well aware of that slow start to Group D from the Germans.

"Their manager has got them back up to speed now and back to the German team we all know. So it's a big challenge for everyone."

Given knows all about the challenge of standing as the last line of defence against a German onslaught, but he has fared relatively well. In three games against Germany, Given finished on the losing side just once and conceded only two goals in those three outings.

Following his retirement, Ireland asked Keiren Westwood (2012) and David Forde (2013) to keep goal against Germany, the end result a leaking of nine goals in two games. Forde got the nod for the next Germany clash, 12 months ago in Gelsenkirchen, and did well in a 1-1 draw but Given is now the man in possession.

As he wasn't involved in that 6-1 thrashing in Dublin three years ago (he had retired from international football and was working that night as a TV analyst), Given is, understandably, reluctant to dwell too long on the defeat which effectively ended Giovanni Trapattoni's reign as Ireland boss (and also finished off Westwood's time as first-choice keeper).

"I was in the studio," he says. "I suppose I did miss it but I don't like talking about going back in time. I think I've spoken about it before, this is about the game on Thursday.

"As a professional footballer it's a great game to play in, playing the world champions in Dublin is fantastic.

"Personally, I'm looking forward to it. That night was very disappointing for everyone and should not talk too much about it. It's all about Thursday and amongst the lads there is a real excitement and a real buzz.

"Even the 1-1 draw in Germany is gone, it was a great result at the time. It's a totally different game now. We need to get a result, it won't be easy and in football you never look back. It's about the next game."

Given will be even more important on Thursday as the back four in front of him will have more than a shade of 'patched up', as Séamus Coleman, Ciarán Clark and Marc Wilson will all be missing as will the suspended Glenn Whelan, the man who does so much (unheralded) work in midfield to protect that back four.

"It's not ideal. Ideally you want your strongest squad for the gaffer to pick from. But they cannot do anything about it, it's about the players that come in," says Given.

"It's an opportunity for the players whom the manager brings in. In an ideal world, of course you'd want those players fit and ready."

There's also a question mark over Given's own match-readiness, due to his lack of game time lately, but the 39-year-old, who draws inspiration from keepers like Brad Friedel and Mark Schwarzer to prolong his career, says he's in good nick.

"I feel fine, I've been training well and training hard. I've played a few cup games as well with Stoke and enjoyed that," he says. "I played the last two internationals which were only last month so I've played a few games, if not as many as maybe I would like."

If things go badly in the next two games, this could be Given's last appearance in an Ireland squad, so for him all the focus is on Thursday in Dublin with no distractions from the Scotland/Poland game. "If we worry about what happens elsewhere, we might take our eye off the ball," Given says.

"We've got to stay focused, try and get a result against Germany - which isn't going to be easy. We're at home, the crowd will play an important part as well, we really need them to get behind us, we need to create a fantastic atmosphere - not that the Germans will be overly intimidated - but we really need them to get behind us and hopefully we'll give them something to shout about as well."

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