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Given: Let's finish the job

AS ever, Shay Given is the best man to approach to test the mood of everyone involved and just one look at the boyish excitement in his eyes was enough to demonstrate clearly that we are on the cusp of something wonderful. Or not!

But it should not be forgotten that for all Given's remarkable work between the posts for Ireland over the years, he still has unfulfilled ambitions and a burning desire to fulfil them.

Every game like this sees Given singled out for special media attention and this is no different. The man from Gweedore is so important to everything this team wants to achieve and nobody understands the pain of falling short as much.


Right now, he is focusing on the simple fact that Ireland have never qualified for a major tournament finals at home. The right result tomorrow and that door will open wide.

"I think the atmosphere in the stadium for the Armenia game was the best because people were talking about how it was not the same as the old Lansdowne.

"But I think that night proved the new stadium can be rocking as well.

"The fans really played their part, to be fair, and deserve great credit for that. Hopefully Tuesday night will be the same.

"It would be fantastic to qualify at home," said Given.

"The last time, obviously, was in Iran and that seemed a bit surreal because there were a hundred thousand Iranians booing us off the pitch. The flipside of that would be such a fantastic occasion."

That was a night alright. From the extraordinarily intimidating call to prayer observed by every one of those present in the ground before the kick-off and delivered in a deep, booming tone, to the riotous retreat from the ground under a hail of bottles, tomatoes and other even less savoury substances, each moment stays etched in the memory. Remember the fireworks during the game?

"Fireworks? There were a few grenades going off I think," he laughed.

"It was a bit spicy, alright. It was really quite intimidating.

"That said, it was one the best atmospheres from a hostility point of view that I've ever played in. It was a bit nervy and I think it was the 91st minute when they got the goal, but luckily enough we held out for the last couple of minutes.

"They were no pushovers and I don't know if we were favourites then but we managed to get through. I know we're supposed to be favourites against Estonia but you don't want to be carried away with the whole thing."

Given pays a glowing tribute to Giovanni Trapattoni's ability to engineer strong defensive performances away from home.


"I think he's just instilled a belief in us that we can go to places like Italy and Russia to get results. I think one of the biggest aspects of that is our work rate as a team. There are no passengers, no one who doesn't put a shift in. When we don't have the ball we work very hard to get it back and cause the opposition problems."

Given, like Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane tasted the glory of a big tournament in Japan and he has seen enough sob stories attached to this team since then.

"There have been too many sad stories and we want to have a happy one at the end of this. It'll only happen if we do the business on the pitch. It doesn't matter what we say or what you guys write, it's all about the performance and getting the result. Please God, hopefully we can do that."

The last time Ireland visited Tallinn, Given was an unused substitute on the bench, a position he has never enjoyed and it was very obvious that he was unhappy to sit and watch Alan Kelly stand between the posts.

He has never lost his relentlessly competitive streak but he acknowledges that time is moving on and that it won't be long before he is under pressure as Kelly was in those days.

"I think I'm still fighting for my place. Keiren Westwood is pushing me hard at the minute. I don't think you're ever settled in your position and I think that's the way it should be for all the players. Alan Kelly, Dean Kiely, we were all challenging for the jersey," he said.

"It was one of Mick's bad decisions and I told him after," laughed Given. "I was still quite young and you live and you learn. I've been very proud of playing for my country. "I'm just desperate for us to get to the finals. What a huge lift it would give everyone. The whole country seems to be a wee bit down because of the economic situation. If even for a couple of days we could give them a huge lift, it would mean a lot.


"I've never played in the European Championship finals and I'd like to look back when I've finished and say I've played in the World Cup and the Euros. And I can't say that yet.

"This is a real chance for me and some of the players to do that -- and maybe the last chance for a place at the European Championships. It's a big prize.

"I grew up all my life as an Irish supporter and just because I live in England doesn't mean I don't know what it means to the people. Times are hard and it would give the whole country a massive lift."