Shay Given has described his international retirement as “the biggest football decision you will ever make” but made clear that, for a combination of reasons, he felt now was the right time to pass on Ireland’s No 1 shirt.
Speaking via a conference call to Irish journalists who are in Belgrade for tonight’s friendly against Serbia — officially now the first match of the post-Given era — the Donegal man offered insights into the thinking behind his momentous decision to stand down after appearing 125 times, over a period of 16 years, for his country.
“It was a big decision and the biggest football decision you will ever make,” he said. “I have been thinking about it for a while, for weeks and months. And I just felt now was the right time to make the decision before the new [World Cup] campaign starts.
“It’s time for someone else to try and qualify and now was the right time to step aside.”
Given said that a combination of factors influenced his decision, not least among them the 36-year-old’s desire to do his best for his club in the remaining years of his career.
“I have four years left on my contract at Aston Villa and I felt that it was only proper that I give them everything I have,” he said.
“I am obviously not getting any younger and your body takes longer to recover when you are travelling with Ireland. There is no real break in the whole season and it does get tougher when you get older. Even for example, this game now in Serbia. It’s only a friendly but if you’re involved in that, it will be a case of getting back Wednesday night/Thursday morning, travelling through the night, and you’ll be a bit knackered on Thursday, a bit tired on Friday, and the Premier League season starts on Saturday. All these things add up over the course of a season.”
The presence of a new manager at Villa Park, in Paul Lambert, was also a consideration.
“Yes, of course, I had a good chat with him and I had a good chat with a few people such as Dunney [Richard Dunne] to get clear in my own head what I felt was the right thing to do. There is a new manager at the club now and you want to impress him.”
And what of his international manager? How did the conversation go when he broke the news to Giovanni Trapattoni on Monday?
“I think he knew that I had sort of made the decision,” Given explained “I was quite clear. He thanked me for my efforts and he was pretty cool about it to be honest, so there was no real issue. It was not up for discussion with him, it was more me telling him that I had made my decision.
“I think it was pretty clear in what I was saying to him. Mary O’Brien [from the FAI’s international department] was there to help with any problems with the translation. We both said what we had to say.”
While Trapattoni was vague in his remarks in Belgrade yesterday about the futures of Given’s fellow senior players Dunne, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, the Donegal man was at least making some encouraging noises about the likelihood of his Villa colleague Dunne staying on for the World Cup campaign.
Otherwise, his comments were understandably hedged with qualification.
“As a far as I am aware they are all going to continue but I have not really spoken to anybody but Richard,” he said. “I don’t want to say that he is definitely going to continue but I think he is of the mind-set that he is going to continue. But I cannot really speak for him in that sense.
“I have not spoken to Robbie and Duffer, to be honest, and I don’t know what their thoughts are. But I was the oldest man in the squad. Robbie is still quite young so there is no reason why they cannot continue for another campaign.”
As for Given’s long-term future, he admits he hasn’t given any thought to whether he might follow in the footsteps of his international predecessors Packie Bonner and Alan Kelly by moving into coaching.
“I haven’t thought too much beyond Saturday,” he said. “I was proud and happy to have played for Ireland once; to have played for 16 years, is a bit surreal. It’s been a pleasure and an honour and what the future holds, well, I couldn’t really answer that.”
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