ONLY Given to beat. Words Irish fans are getting used to by now. Words that cause perspiration and furrowed brows at the state of the Irish defence, but instead engender a certain type of confidence.
Let’s go back to the 19th minute of Saturday’s game. Samuel Eto’o had just left Gary Breen flailing in his slipstream, sprinting towards the Irish goal with only Given to beat. Those words again sprang to mind as the Lifford man burst from his goal-line decisively to deny Eto’o.
It was Tehran all over again. Ali Daei played now by Eto’o, that wonderfully skilful striker for the African champions. The drama concluded the same way.
Given the hero, Given keeping the game at parity. 20 minutes later, he would be beaten by Mboma, but that doesn’t bury the fact; he is the one certainty in a back five, occasionally conspicuous by its uncertainty.
On Saturday, his performance was as usual, commanding and decisive. Despite picking up a slight hip injury in the line of duty, and how many hearts were in mouths when they saw Given keeled over, he should be available to deny Klose and Jancker in Ibaraki.
One of only two Irish players flirting with the world-class tag, and depending on how far Ireland progress, which he will have an integral role in, we may even be bestowing him with that renowned prefix by the time Ireland are back in Dublin.
Yesterday, he was all smiles. But there was a niggling feeling at the back of Given’s mind.
“We are happy with the result, but we should have got all three points,” Given claims.
“We had a couple of great chances in the second half. I know they had their chances in the first, but I think we had more in the second.”
Of course, there was that save. The chance fell to Eto’o during a spell when Cameroon were in complete control, Ireland still dealing with butterflies. Even now, the importance couldn’t be under-stated.
“It was an important save, I suppose. I was just happy to get close enough to him to stop it. At that stage, we were under the cosh a little.”
In the second half, football illustrated how funny a game it is. Given sold Harte short with a throw, the full-back dilly-dallied on the ball, allowing Geremi to dispossess him. Given watched the ball fly by his post. Seconds later, Matt Holland scored and Ireland went into the ascendancy.
“I had that all under control,” Given laughed. “Yeah, it was a scary moment.”
In a moment that showed the maturity Given has developed over the past couple of years, he flipped into Schmechiel mode and chewed Harte raw.
“We exchanged a few polite words with each other, but you will have that during the course of 90 minutes. I thought he was going to knock the ball back, but he wanted to bring it forward.”
The Irish team walked out onto the pitch a couple of hours before kick-off. Half of the 10,000 Irish fans were already in the stadium in high spirits. Given had to pinch himself. He couldn’t believe he was finally here, at a World Cup, playing for his country.
“It was the sort of thing I dreamt about watching Italia 90 and USA 94, but never really believed it would happen. To walk out there was really special and that is something which will stay with us forever now.
Was he surprised by the number of Irish fans there?
“Well, my brother and a few of his mates called out to the team hotel the night before the game and they were saying ‘you aren’t going to believe the amount of Irish fans here. The bus and train station is full of them, all the hotels are full of them.’ I realised what he meant when we walked onto the pitch a few hours beforehand.”
“And we definitely found an energy from the crowd.”
However, looking forward he insisted: “We have to get something out of the German game. We don’t want to be going into the last game, not knowing where we stand in the group. Needing to win and expecting favours. That’s a situation nobody wants.”