Team spirit and hard work secret of our success -- Given
Published 05/10/2011 | 05:00
RIGHT now, Shay Given has plenty to shout about.
A year ago, he arrived for Irish duty frozen in time at Manchester City, and feeling the effects of his inactivity.
One point from six against Russia and Slovakia did little to lift his mood.
This October, it's different. Given has reported for duty a happier man, fresh from a successful run of games with Aston Villa and conscious that six points from Andorra and Armenia will guarantee his country a Euro 2012 play-off and maybe more.
His vocal cords have also been exercised cheering on the Ireland rugby team as they blaze a trail in New Zealand.
"During the Australia game, I was doing so much shouting at the TV, they might have heard me from Birmingham," he joked.
This group of players desperately crave a chance to shine on the big stage but they must first overcome unglamorous challenges like Friday's test in Andorra, where the conditions are sure to be a factor.
"We looked at the videos of their game with Russia and the pitch looked horrendous, to be honest," admitted Given (pictured below).
"We'll know more when we get there, but there looked to be patches of sand. So, we must play in their half more, and hopefully pressurise them into making mistakes, which will happen on a bad pitch."
The Donegal man is clearly excited about the possibilities that are looming over the horizon, but there is a default caution.
"You do think about it, but when you get ahead of yourself football does have a habit of kicking you in the teeth," he warned.
Last month's draw in Russia has injected confidence into the camp, even if there was an element of fortune involved. The goalkeeper argues that the players worked hard to earn it in hostile territory.
"Russia is a big, big nation. There is something like 142 million people and we've four," he grinned.
He preaches the virtues of work-rate, words that would resonate with Giovanni Trapattoni.
"That's one of the reasons why we are in this position at the minute," he said. "As a group, as a team and as individuals, we work our socks off for the team and the cause."
Given is a Trapattoni fan. In August, he endorsed a retention of the Italian's services, while stopping short of confirming he will continue his own lengthy international career into the 2014 World Cup campaign.
On both counts, his position remains the same, but he acknowledges that the performance of the players in the next week will have a huge say on the managerial situation.
"I think they've been fantastic since they came in, and I've always said we're lucky to have a manager like we do," explained the 35-year-old.
"I suppose we have to get the results first but hopefully we can do that for the manager. We have these two games and let's see how they go. I'm sure all the rest of it will take care of itself."
Ten years have passed since Given tasted his finest hour in the Irish jersey, a heroic performance against Iran that booked a trip to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea.
That game was also played at high altitude, probably the only comparison you could find with the frenzied atmosphere in Tehran and the low-key nature of this test.
Nevertheless, the purpose remains the same. And with a serene mood around the Irish camp this week, Given feels something good is brewing.
"It's a really tight bunch of lads now," he said.
"We've got to know a few of the younger lads really well, and that helps.
"Of course, we always want to qualify for tournaments but there is a real together-ness now.
"Hopefully this can be our chance."