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Sunday 20 August 2017

Shay Given: 'Martin has a big decision to make'

In-form 'keeper Given desperate to play against Poland

Republic of Ireland's Shay Given and David Forde during squad training. Gannon Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin
Republic of Ireland's Shay Given and David Forde during squad training. Gannon Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin

SPEAKING from the stage at the FAI awards on Sunday night, Martin O'Neill batted away a question about a possible career in politics.

A keen reader of the news from home, O'Neill is no doubt aware that the politicians back in Stormont are facing some very tough calls to make.

Slashing a welfare budget can in no way be compared to making a call on which well-paid footballer will play in a match ahead of another well-paid footballer against a team of very well-paid footballers.

Injuries to players like Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan, Jonathan Walters and Aiden McGeady will occupy a lot of O'Neill's time this week but the identity of his goalkeeper to face Poland is one of the biggest calls he has to make in his 17-month reign as Ireland manager.

Shay Given, who turns 39 next month, is back in the frame and back in the manager's thoughts after some good performances in Aston Villa's FA Cup run.

READ MORE: Shay Given: We need to beat Poland to blow group wide open

Of course there was a time when Given earned rave reviews for Champions League and Premier League jousts in the Newcastle United side, so it all has to be seen in context of a FA Cup run from a relegation-threatened side.

And while Given accepts that David Forde is the man in possession of the No. 1 shirt, he does not envy O'Neill for the call he has to make on who will start against Poland.

"That's the manager's job, that's what he's paid for - to make big decisions," says Given, who would claim his 128th senior cap if he was selected on Sunday.

"And if he keeps David in that's the right decision he thinks - or if he puts me in, or Keiren Westwood, who's having a great season as well.

"We're very strong in the goalkeeping department, we're all pushing for a start. But the manger gets paid to make big decisions and he'll have to make a big one there. He might just keep it the way it's been going. I don't know," added Given.

He does have some support behind him due to those games in Villa's march to the FA Cup semi-final. Given was an unused sub on his last trip to a Cup final, with Manchester City, but while Brad Guzan remains first choice for Premier League games, Given is hopeful that his presence in the team for the FA Cup run will carry on. "I think obviously the FA Cup has helped me. I know Seamus McDonagh has been to the last couple of games to watch me and, obviously, has reported back to the manager," he says.

"And I'm sure Martin has seen the games on TV as well. Big games, big derbies against Leicester and West Brom, sell-out games at Villa Park and massive games for the club. And I felt I did well.

"But I don't pick the team, Martin picks the team so all I can do is work hard this week in training and hopefully get the nod on Sunday. And if not then I'll support whoever he picks."

"I feel as sharp as ever. You can only work hard in training and then gauge your real sharpness in the games. The games I've played in the FA Cup, I've felt really good, I've felt back to where I think I can be.

"And I think it's shown in the games. I've looked pretty sharp and made some big saves when needed as well."

Poland was where Given's international career seemed to end, the Donegal man retiring in the wake of Ireland's dismal Eurio 2012 display, only to then change his mind and come back to play.

And Poland could also play a big part in Ireland's participation at Euro 2016, as defeat to the Poles on Sunday would severely dent Irish hopes.

"It's a massive game and I've been involved in many, many massive games for Ireland over the years," says Given.

"It's the biggest game, I suppose, that we are going to play in this campaign, it's such a huge game.

"We are going to have to try to win the game, we're at home. It's huge, Poland are one of the best teams in the group so it's going to be a tough game."

Given is also looking forward to a clash with fellow ex-Celtic keeper, Artur Boruc. "Artur is a quality keeper and is very experienced and he won't be fazed by the atmosphere on Sunday," he says.

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