Shay Given eyes perfect sign off in France

Shay Given stopped short of a declaration he wouldn’t answer Ireland’s call should his phone ring next September, but his every utterance yesterday made it clear the end of his 21-year international career is nigh.

The only question is whether that is days away or weeks. The 40-year old is one of four men scrambling for three goalkeeping slots in Martin O’Neill’s squad for next month’s European Championship. Such is the uncertainty over the position in recent years he could travel as number one or not at all.

“I’ve had a fair run at it, but I still feel I have something left to give,” he said. “Hopefully in France I’ll have something to give. That decision is obviously taken out of my hands in terms of who goes, but I’d like to think I can do enough over the next week to 10 days to show that I should.”

Given, David Forde and Darren Randolph all enjoyed spells as O’Neill’s main guy between the posts during the qualifying campaign. Add in Keiren Westwood’s impressive form with Sheffield Wednesday and the choice facing the manager isn’t easy.

The absence of Westwood and Forde due to their play-off commitments with Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall this week leaves O’Neill with just Given and Randolph to work with for now, and contemplating a call on Dundalk’s Gary Rogers as back-up at some point.

That leaves Given sure to tog out against the Netherlands this Friday and he could do with the game time after a season which earned him just five appearances with Stoke City thanks to Jack Butland’s primacy at the Britannia and the injury the Irishman suffered against Germany last September.

All he did was kick the ball that night, but it caused the Donegal man to chip a bone in his knee. Cue an operation. And a second one. Only Butland’s own injury issues whilst on international duties with England paved the way for some belated appearances at the back end of the season. Such an absence will have cut even deeper than usual given his advanced age. He even took it upon himself to travel to Qatar for another opinion from Ian McGuinness who was part of the medical staff during his days with Newcastle United and Aston Villa.

The change of scenery helped as much as anything.

“Our gym at Stoke looks out over the pitches so you are doing your work and you are looking at the lads playing football and it can be very frustrating,” he admitted. “You just want to be out diving around after the ball like an eejit.

“You’re doing it for the last 20 years and then for it to be taken away is frustrating. It’s mentally challenging as well, so you’ve got to try and be positive and deal with the set-backs as much as you can. It’s not easy. Some days you get down days and you’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”

The inability to earn his pay cheque and repay Mark Hughes’ faith in him didn’t sit well, but he has another year on his contract with the club after the summer. His international future was far less certain as the season wound down.

He’s here for now, but not there yet.

It may be that he travels to France, but watches the tournament unfold from the bench. That wouldn’t be easy for a man who owned the jersey for a decade and a half, but worse again would be looking on from even further afar.

“Tough, yeah, but someone is going to miss out. If it’s me I’ll take it on the chin. If it’s someone else, they’ll have to do the same. That’s the decision the gaffer has to make. He’s the manager, he makes those decisions. Of course it would be a very difficult one, yeah, but you have to get on with it.”

Given was undisputed number one for his country at the 2002 World Cup and at Euro 2012 in Poland, but that latter tournament is remembered for all the wrong reasons after three convincing defeats to Croatia, Spain and Italy.

Given wasn’t at his best, a knee injury and interrupted build-up holding him back, but he isn’t approaching the next month and more feeling there is anything he or his remaining colleagues from four years ago need to do in terms of atonement.

“Do we all owe the Euros one? We had a disappointing one the last time out. I’ve read stuff the last couple of months since we qualified and people keep talking about the last one and people keep mentioning it and bringing it up. But it’s gone now. Nobody can change what’s happened.

“What we can change is what’s going to happen in front of us in the present. We’ve got to park that to one side. Personally I’ll park it to one side as well and look to the Sweden game and look to build up to that. You don’t want to look too far back, you’ve got to look forward in life.

“Especially in football, you’ve got to look to the next game. We’ve got to go out there and show Sweden we are a good team. We’ve beaten some big teams in the last couple of years. We’ve got to bring that performance and that sort of level to a major tournament again.”

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