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Tuesday 22 January 2019

I will stay on even if I don't play says Shay

A SECOND debut, a second coming, a second chance.

Whether Shay Given will be second choice or Ireland's Number One when the European Championships qualifying campaign kicks off in Tbilisi next Sunday, only Martin O'Neill knows.

The party line from the Ireland camp is that Given is back in the Ireland squad, not necessarily in the Ireland starting XI, and both the player and his manager refuted claims that the 38-year-old had ended his two-year exile from the national team on the basis that he'd be guaranteed a start against the Georgians.

"There's no guarantees I'm going to play, and there's no demands from me that I need to play if I'm coming back. I read that somewhere and it's not true," says Given, hoping to win his 126th cap in some capacity against Oman tomorrow.

"I'm just delighted to be here. It's up to Martin and Roy. They pick the team. Hopefully I'll get a nod, but if I don't, I'll be fully behind the goalkeeper."

And Given, starved of football for the last 18 months bar a loan spell with Middlesbrough and occasional cup games (cup defeats, in fact) for Aston Villa, says he has regained an appetite for international football which had gone away.

A lot was going through his head in the immediate aftermath of Euro 2012. Given's pride and ego was bruised by the experience in Poland as he conceded nine goals in three games, Ireland settling in with the joint-worst performance in the history of the Euro finals.

There were also off-field problems which caused him pain as the break-up of his marriage would soon become front page news.

TOUGH TIME

"It was a tough time, you get times like that in life as life is not always rosy, you have downs in life but it's how you react and respond to that. I had other issues away from football that had to be dealt with, so it was a difficult time in my life personally, you move on, get back to basics, you work in training," he says.

"At the time it felt like the right thing to do. I just felt it was the right time to call it a day."

So in 2012 he decided to walk away from the international team and that afforded a chance to a new breed of keepers like David Forde, Keiren Westwood, Darren Randolph, Rob Elliot (as well as the uncapped Ian Lawlor, Stephen Henderson, Brian Murphy and Aaron McCarey) to come try their luck.

Given was just 19 when he made his international debut in 1996, as the fact that Packie Bonner shuffled off the stage opened the door for Given. That door was occasionally closed - incredible as it may seem now but Given was third-choice keeper for the start of the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, behind Alan Kelly and Dean Kiely.

And at one stage in Brian Kerr's reign, ironically ahead of a European Championship qualifier away to Georgia, Kiely came very close to ousting Given as No. 1, when Kerr's decision to persist with Given caused Kiely to eventually walk away from frustration and enter his own bout of international retirement.

But Bonner's exit cleared a path for Given to play, so just as a decision by Bonner to hang around in '96 could have hampered Given's progress, has Given's deicision to come back now not created a problem for the keepers who have been available for the last two years?

"You would need to ask them but this morning they were happy to see me. They may have a different face behind that," joked Given.

"I can understand but they know I don't pick the team, the manager picks the team and we all work well together, as we did this morning, it's always been the case with Ireland and Aston Villa, the keepers are with each other every day and there is a special bond, and that hasn't changed. It's about whoever plays next Sunday, everyone will be behind them."

Of course the scenario which Given now has is not ideal. He's still very not in the Aston Villa side, though things have improved sine last season where he spent a spell as third-choice and was not even on the bench for games.

RARE OUTING

He is in as back up to Brad Guzan and got a rare outing in a Cup game last week, a home defeat to Orient for Villa, but Given looks around him for inspiration that his story has more chapters to come.

"I will have just turned 40 when the European Championships start," says Given. "I met Pat Jennings last year, he was 41 when he played in the World Cup finals he told me I should consider it.

"Ideally you want to be playing every week for match sharpness, but fitness is a different thing. It's not idea, you want to be playing regularly but you can get away with it a little bit as a goalkeeper," added the keeper, accepting that his club situation is not ideal and another loan move is an option.

"It's been difficult, obviously, not playing enough games. I enjoyed my time in Middlesboro last season and that went really well.

"Pre-season's gone well this year. I've played a few games and I felt I did all right. Then there was the Cup game last week. The result wasn't good, but personally, I felt I had done all right."

Roy Keane certainly thinks he has done "alright" as Given is here in DUblin, as a previous attempt to come back fell through.

"I spoke to Trap at one point and he was happy with the goalkeepers he had, so that was fine. I've no real case to put forward to be honest," Given concedes.

"If I was playing regularly then I'd be in a stronger position, so I'm in no position to say I should be playing or to be making demands that I'll only come in if I play. Obviously Roy being at Villa is a help as well, because he sees me every day. Martin hasn't seen me train or play that much, so I think Roy has probably seen enough in training to think I can still have something to offer."

Given also turned his mind to hat day in 1996 when he played for Ireland for the first time, so long ago that potential Ireland team-mate Jack Grealish was just six months old.

He says: "I had loads of family and cousins and relatives from all over Donegal and around the country there all to come and watch me play because at 19, you don't know if it will be your last game."

Now Martin O'Neill, not fate, decides if Given has played his last game.

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