Given on mission to make up for Ireland's lost time
Published 06/10/2010 | 05:00
Funny how time slips away.
Seamus Given used to bring Shay and the three elder boys down from Donegal to the Ireland matches back in the 1980s, when the economy was just as banjaxed as it is now and the roads were worse.
Ever since he started kicking a ball in the back garden up there in Lifford, he dreamed of emulating those men in green, yearning to covet the merest sprinkle of stardust from the storied gloves of Packie Bonner, the hero from up the road and yet seemingly a million miles from home.
Euro '88 and Italia '90 fuelled Shay Given's dreams. Reality would crown them. Less than two years after USA '94, Given himself would be between the sticks of an Irish goal, injuries to Alan Kelly and his hero, Bonner, hastening the debut of the fresh-faced teenager.
Given and Bonner spent the eve of his debut against Russia on March 27, 1996, sloshing around in preparation on Richmond Park mud in Inchicore before Mick McCarthy, debuting in the managerial game, announced his sudden elevation in McDowell's pub next door.
"It's a few wrinkles ago I suppose," he says with a smile. "It was special night for me, fantastic."
The recall is instant. "Yeah, we lost by 2-0, which wasn't a good start but I had lots of family, friends and cousins there to see my first game. And I had the privilege to play with Paul McGrath, which was very special.
"Great memories. I think that one stands out, it's your first game and it was very special. Roy Keane got sent off that night too."
It would take McCarthy seven games to notch his opening win. There followed a hat-trick of agonising slip-ups that mocked Given's desire to emulate his Donegal mentor and qualify for a major tournament.
The 2002 World Cup marked the end of an eight-year longueur and Given's efforts in qualification show up the foolishness of those revisionists who claim that Roy Keane was the sine qua non of that campaign.
But since then, a similarly yawning gap has developed as Ireland pine to dine at football's top table. And time keeps ticking.
"For players and fans alike, we're all really hungry to get there. And having got so close obviously in the last campaign, it hurts even more. I'm not getting any younger and I know I don't have many campaigns left, so I'd really like to qualify for this one.
"A lot of the younger players that are coming in now have a lot more experience, so we've got a good mix of experience and youth. We just need to cross the line."
Russia have punctured Ireland's ambition twice during Given's now 106-cap career in the green shirt -- the Moscow nightmare that precipitated McCarthy's November 2002 exit and the pallid performance in a home draw in the same Euro 2004 qualifying campaign that typified the Brian Kerr era.
"Playing Russia in Dublin was always going to be one of the biggest games in the group," says Given, "and with the crowd behind us, it's a night-time game under floodlights and hopefully the fans can create a fantastic atmosphere.
"I know it's a cliche, but if the supporters can be our 12th man and have the place rocking on Friday night, then hopefully the Russians will know they're coming into a bit of a cauldron. If we can produce on the pitch, it bodes well for a fantastic night."
Before he arrives, the nice lady from the FAI reports that he doesn't want to talk about Manchester City. Not that there's a lot to talk about at Man City. Given still isn't playing, although that probably stems from his August rant in Dublin when he couldn't help but talk about the Eastlands club.
Since then Roberto Mancini has dug his heals in, even refused the 34-year-old the dignity of stripping out for Europa League fare and limiting him to one League Cup appearance; the Italian has a Hart but, from Given's perspective, it's in the wrong place.
A goalkeeper's lot is a lonesome one at the best of times. A benched goalkeeper is football's equivalent of solitary confinement. Roy Keane might paint a picture of a greedy caps hoarder but Given has earned the right to need his country as much as it needs him.
"These games have got me through training," he admits. "I've had to work at it because you've bad days. It's tough at the minute. Obviously, there's family and the kids keep me happy. That's important. It's a tough time for me but I'll just keep going."