Martin O’Neill admits he has a number of selection decisions to make before he finalises his team to play Poland at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
And one of the biggest ones looks like being a straight choice between David Forde and Shay Given for the number one spot.
Since Given’s last competitive game for his country, way back at the Euro 2012 finals, Forde has established himself as Ireland’s go-to goalkeeper.
But, for the first time since Given came out of retirement, there is a growing sense the vastly experienced netminder is in with a real chance of getting the nod for this crunch Euro qualifier.
O’Neill was on hand himself to see Forde play in Millwall’s 2-2 draw with Brentford on Saturday, while goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh has been running the rule over Given during his eye-catching performances in the FA Cup for Aston Villa.
Of course, O’Neill wasn’t about to show his hand to the media yesterday but, when asked, he did speak in glowing terms about the recent resurgence in Given’s profile.
“The reason he came back in (to Ireland) was he was keen and he didn’t want his international career to end the way it did in Poland,” the manager observed. “In the games he’s played for us, he’s done exceptionally well, and in the games he’s played for Aston Villa as well, he’s done exceptionally well. So it’s really good to have him around.”
As for the man himself, the 38-year-old gave the strong impression after training in Gannon Park he feels he’s firmly knocking on the door again.
“Obviously, the FA Cup’s been a big boost for me, something to work for, a sort of carrot dangling to push myself,” he observed. “I think I’ve done well in the games and, hopefully, I’m pushing this week as well.
“I feel as sharp as ever. You can only work hard in training and then gauge your real sharpness in the games. And, like I said, the games I’ve played in the FA Cup, I’ve felt really good, I’ve felt back to where I think I can be. And I think it’s shown. I’ve looked pretty sharp and made some big saves when needed to.
“I know Seamus McDonagh has been to the last couple of games to watch me and, obviously, has reported back to the manager. And I’m sure Martin has seen the games on TV as well. And they’ve been big games, big derbies against Leicester and West Brom, sell-out games at Villa Park and massive games for the club. And I felt I did well.
“But I don’t pick the team, Martin picks the team, so all I can do is work hard this week in training and hopefully get the nod on Sunday. And if not then I’ll support whoever he picks.
“That’s the manager’s job, that’s what he’s paid for — to make big decisions. And if he keeps David in then he thinks that’s the right decision. Or if he puts me in. Or Keiren Westwood, who’s having a great season as well. We’re very strong in the goalkeeping department, we’re all pushing for a start. But the manager gets paid to make big decisions and he’ll have to make a big one there. He might just keep it the way it’s been going. I don’t know.”
On the subject of his young club mate Jack Grealish, Given — although bemused by the player’s international time-out — said he was pleased to hear that he plans to don the green shirt again in September, even if it does appear that he’s still stalling on whether his senior future lies with Ireland or England.
“Taking a year — I never heard one like that before,” Given chuckled. “It’s like he turned into a student and took a gap year. Naw, it was nice to see his family at the FAI Awards. Hopefully, coming across and seeing how much support that the nation has for him will make him make the right decision.
“He’s a class player. He obviously wants to play more times for Villa as well, but he’s still very young and Tim Sherwood is just sort of letting him in gently into the team. But I think he has the right manager that will get the best out of him and hopefully he has a big future ahead of him.”
Meanwhile, Given is hoping an FA Cup semi-final starting place awaits him at Villa but, for these days leading up to Sunday’s Euro qualifier, all his thoughts are solely on country not club.
“This game does not take too much talking about or too much building up,” he said. “I think every player, coach and manager knows the significance of the game so all the club situations are parked to one side and all focus is on Sunday. It’s a huge game.”
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