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Given keeping cautious

WHEN a goalkeeper reaches the age when his bruises have bruises and the impact points on his body have accumulated a career load of punishment, rest is never a bad idea.

Shay Given hasn't done rest up to now and whatever the weather, whatever his physical condition, the inclination was to run through familiar routines he has used for a long time to condition himself properly for top-class football.

But over the past few seasons, injury has forced Given to sit out more training sessions than at any other time in his career and that, in itself, is no bad thing.

A few months back, both Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli joked about the fact that Given continued to pile into kicks-out in training when he had an issue with his kicking leg.

This week, a dodgy wrist has restricted his activities but there is no sense of concern about the injury either from the player or the management.

Knock

Perhaps we must simply get used to the idea that at the stage Given is at in his career, he will carry some kind of knock into most of the games he plays but it won't slow him down.

Given's presence between the posts for Ireland has the feeling of permanency which usually applies to geographical landmarks; a familiarity which brings comfort and a |rock-solid presence in the team.

Without him, Richard Dunne's astonishing performance against Russia would have meant nothing and this game against Andorra would have become a stage for forlorn hope rather than a stepping stone to a play-off at least.

His greatest attribute is that he never changes. His performance level never dips and his approach to every game is the same.

Prepare

“We have to prepare for this team the same as we would any team. It means the same going to Andorra as it does going to Russia last month, we still need to get the right result. We will prepare as we would against a big nation,” said Given.

“We will look at the videos in the next few days and figure out where it's best to break them down and where they are vulnerable.

“To be fair to Andorra, they have come on in the last couple of years and I don't know if you remember but they caused us some problems early on in Dublin. They have big guys and cause trouble from set plays. There will be a couple of patches in the game where we have to be patient.

“We'll have chances at the other end but in football you cannot take anything for granted. Strange things can happen in football so we have to be ready.”

It could be, all going to plan, that Given has a quiet night and will spend what is predicted to be a chilly 90 minutes warming his hands and staring at the stars.

“I could check out the mountains I suppose! For a goalkeeper, it's all about the concentration levels,” he added. “Sometimes you come out of a game like this drained, sweating and people think ‘what is happening

there?' But you have to be tuned in. It might be a save in the last minute that protects a lead.

“Andorra are a small nation and will get a lot of bodies behind the ball. It’s up to us to make chances and create chances and try to get behind them and between them. Sometimes it can be difficult when they put so many bodies behind the ball, no matter what team you are.

Tricky

“We're confident but it's going to be a tricky game and pitch. We have to try and get the win, no matter how it comes about – 1-0, 4-0, 5-0, it doesn't matter. We need three points.”

How highly does he rate Ireland's chances of topping the group?

“Football does have a habit of kicking you in the teeth when you get too carried away,” he said. “It is important we don't do that and get too carried away with the whole thing. Maybe after Friday, if results go our way, we can talk about it. It is important not to get carried away.”

Trapattoni's iron discipline will prevent that and Given believes that the squad ethos which now prevails is more armour against complacency.

Asked about Leon Best's absence from the squad, the Aston Villa keeper gave a straight answer, which leaves no room for doubt about the minimum requirement for the players, and management, from anyone who wants to play for Ireland at the moment.

Socks

“One of the reasons why we are in this position at the minute is because, as a group, as a team and as individuals, we work our socks off for the team and the cause,” Given said.

“I am sure Leon Best will come back into the squad but you look at someone like Kevin Doyle and his work ethic in some games.

“It is phenomenal and that is all through the team.

“Everyone puts a shift in and I think that is why we have got results.”