Darren Randolph: I used to pretend to be Shay Given when I was younger
Darren Randolph has revealed he used to pretend he was Shay Given as he dreamed of a career in football.
West Ham keeper Randolph will head to the Euro 2016 finals with the Republic of Ireland next week along with 40-year-old Given, who earlier this week extended the span of his international career to an Irish record of 20 years and 65 days.
Now 29, Randolph, the son of American-born professional basketball player Ed, was a schoolboy when Given won his first senior cap back in March 1996, and he admits his was one of the names he and his friends used to shout as they created their football fantasies.
Asked about the prospect of representing his country in France, he said: "You are running around the pitch with your mates when you are younger calling out names of different players from different World Cups and European Championships, and it will be surreal to be there myself involved in one.
"Shay is one of the names, yes. He was around then as well, so he would have been one of them, yes. Not only Irish goalkeepers, but most goalkeepers, he's up there with the top ones."
Given made his 134th appearance for the Republic in Tuesday night's 2-1 friendly defeat by Belarus in Cork, and while it was Randolph who finished the qualification campaign as the man in possession he knows there is much he and Keiren Westwood, the third keeper in Martin O'Neill's 23, can learn from the veteran.
He said: "It's always good to have any experienced player there, especially someone with his experience. I was reading the programme the other day - 133 caps, or 134 after last night - that's invaluable."
Just which of the three men will get the nod in France has been a topic for some debate since the squad met up in Dublin last month.
Given was O'Neill's number one until he damaged a knee during the famous 1-0 qualifying victory over Germany in October last year, and Randolph has done little wrong since taking over from him.
However, Westwood, the beneficiary of Given's since reconsidered decision to retire from international football after 2012, has been the only one of the three to have played regular first-team football at club level this season and he turned in a fine individual display in Sheffield Wednesday's 1-0 Sky Bet Championship play-off defeat by Hull last Saturday.
O'Neill rarely gives anything away about his team selection, even to the players, and Randolph and his fellow goalkeepers have become used to that.
He said: "It's how he works. It has been that way since he first came into the job. You go out and train, train hard and we know he's not going to have the team until we get to the changing room.
"Everyone just prepares like you're going to play if you get the nod - and if you don't get the nod, be prepared to come on."
The Ireland players will be given the weekend off following their training camp at Fota Island in Cork - where Jonathan Walters did not train on Thursday because of a calf problem - and report back for duty in Dublin on Sunday night before heading to France on Wednesday.
Preparations will be ramped up from that point on, with assistant manager Roy Keane having left the players who did duty at Turner's Cross on Tuesday evening in little doubt that they need to be significantly better in the weeks ahead.
Like Given, Keane brings a wealth of experience to the table, but his fearsome reputation is all his own.
Randolph said with a smile: "You certainly don't want to disappoint him, do you?"