Aidan O'Hara: Given should take pay cut in bid to forge fitting legacy
BILLY CONNOLLY tells a joke about an elderly man sitting on a bench with his wife, Agnes, in the 1960s going through all the trials and tribulations of their lives together.
The man didn't have a job when they met but Agnes stood by him; then there was the war and she stood by him; then the great depression and she stood by him; then the Second World War and she stood by him, and then he was too old to get a job and she still stood by him.
"And I was thinking Agnes," says the man. "You're a f**king jinx."
For the past few years, Shay Given must be wondering if an Agnes-type character is following him around in a career that has never really got the chance to reach the heights it should have before seemingly petering out on the bench of a mediocre Premier League club.
In most of his 12 years at Newcastle, the Magpies never seemed too far from disaster, with Given generally being the one with his finger in the dyke.
When he escaped to Manchester City, who by that stage were becoming known for cash rather than calamity, it finally gave him the chance to show whether he could cut it at a club who would be challenging for honours -- or if he'd end up in the Tim Howard category of being good but not quite good enough.
With 15 minutes remaining in the fourth-last Premier League game of the 2009/10 season, Given suffered a shoulder injury against Arsenal at a point when City were on course to qualify for the Champions League for the first time and, with money behind them, they and Given could have expected to be there for many years after.
Eleven days later, City lost to Tottenham with Martin Fulop in goal, finished fifth and Given spent the summer months trying to be ready for the start of the season.
Had Given stayed fit, he would have played all 38 games of a season when, perhaps, City would have qualified for the Champions League. Instead, Joe Hart returned from his loan at Birmingham and Roberto Mancini had a decision to make.
That 0-0 draw against Arsenal was Given's 35th game in the Premier League; in the following season he didn't play a minute as Hart established himself as undisputed No 1.
Last Saturday, Given's career reached its highest point since that injury when he kept his sixth clean sheet since his loan move to Middlesbrough from Aston Villa. At the final whistle after the 1-0 victory against Charlton, he was the one who team-mates rushed to congratulate after a superb last-minute save ensured the three points.
It was Middlesbrough's sixth victory in the 10 games featuring Given, who would be forgiven for having forgotten what it feels like to win.
It's a measure of the direction his career has taken that, before his loan move to Middlesbrough, the last time Given was involved with a team that won a league match was in March 2012 when Aston Villa beat Fulham 1-0 in the Premier League.
On that day, he was 35. In three months' time, he turns 38.
Given is hardly one for the future but having played just 94 league games in five years, there's no reason to think he has too many miles on the clock.
That's why Roy Keane was watching him on Saturday because, with everyone fit, Given remains the best goalkeeper Ireland have available to them and the pragmatism of Martin O'Neill certainly wouldn't let a player's age become a more important factor than his ability.
If O'Neill or Keane want to know how Given is performing, a glowing reference from Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka would be a certainty.
Asked if Given was the reason for the victory against Charlton which lifts Boro to ninth, five points off a play-off spot, Karanka said: "I don't want to say it was 100pc because everyone worked hard, but he's very important for us.
"Shay is first of all a very good person and a very good professional and I think he's improving with age.
"Someone told me Roy Keane was here watching him and I'm very happy for Shay. I've only been working with him for two months but I always want to have a 'keeper like him."
The problem, however, remains Given's £60,000-a-week contract at Villa which, incredibly, still has two and a half years left to run. Having a guarantee of another £7.5m coming over the next two years is a nice problem to have but, at some point, he will have to make a call about whether he wants the money or minutes on the field.
Ireland don't play a competitive game until next September, which means Given has this transfer window and the next one to decide just how much he is willing to sacrifice.
As it stands, the last act of Given's 125-cap Ireland career was traipsing off the pitch in Poznan having conceded nine goals in three games at Euro 2012. Keane and O'Neill seem determined to give him a chance to write a different ending to how he will be remembered. At club level, it's time he helped himself.
BET YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE
Liverpool and Aston Villa to draw, 6/1
The 14/1 on offer for Villa to win at Anfield for the second consecutive season was also tempting, but even had you taken both bets, there was still money to be made.
Whenever Brendan Rodgers talks up Liverpool's chances it's often wise to bet against them in the next game. As shown again on Saturday with a poor performance, he might be wise to keep his thoughts to himself. At 2-0, Villa looked certain to repeat last year's victory at Anfield, but Liverpool's comeback gave anyone who took the bet something to smile about.
SOCCER ON TV
Forfar v Rangers, Scottish League One, BT Sport 1, 7.45; West Brom v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1, 8.0.
West Ham v Man City, League Cup, Sky Sports 1, 7.45.
Man Utd v Sunderland, League Cup, Sky Sports 1, 7.45
Lille v Rennes, Ligue 1, ESPN, 7.30; Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, BT Sport 2, 7.30; Brentford v Gillingham, League One, Sky Sports 1, 7.45; Arsenal v Coventry City, FA Cup, BT Sport 1, 7.45.
Bournemouth v Liverpool, FA Cup, ITV, 12.45; Eintracht Frankfurt v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, BT Sport 2, 5.30; Stevenage v Everton, FA Cup, BT Sport 1, 5.30; Lazio v Juventus, Serie A, BT Sport 2, 7.45.
Verona v Roma, Serie A, BT Sport 2, 11.30; Hibernian v Celtic, Scottish Premiership, Sky Sports 1, 12.45; Sheffield United v Fulham, FA Cup, BT Sport 1, 1.0; Cagliari v AC Milan, Serie A, BT Sport 2, 2.0; Werder Bremen v Eintracht Braunschweig, Bundesliga, ESPN, 2.30; Chelsea v Stoke City, FA Cup, ITV, 3.30; Bordeaux v St Etienne, Ligue 1, BT Sport 2, 4.0; Hamburg v Schalke, Bundesliga, ESPN, 4.30; Fiorentina v Genoa, Serie A, BT Sport 1, 7.45; Monaco v Marseille, Ligue 1, BT Sport 1, 8.00