Tuesday 16 January 2018

Even if I don't play in France, I think I have lots to offer - Given

Republic of Ireland's Callum O'Dowda. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Callum O'Dowda. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There was a time when the prospect of life as anything other than number one would have been anathema to Shay Given. This week, however, his mission is to avoid becoming number four.

Given is preparing to retire from international football for the second and final time after Euro 2016 but that sentence depends on the Donegal native making Martin O'Neill's final cut.

O'Neill named likely first choice Darren Randolph, Given, David Forde and Keiren Westwood in his provisional panel for the tournament but the latter pair are absent for Friday's game with Holland because their respective employers Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday are engaged in play-off finals. One of the quartet is going to miss out on the plane.

The build-up to the Dutch encounter provides Given with the opportunity to show O'Neill that he has recovered from a season plagued by the knee injury sustained in last October's win over Germany.

He is still undergoing a fitness programme that will take him out of one Irish training session, with O'Neill thinking about bringing in Dundalk netminder Gary Rogers to accompany Randolph. But Given is desperate to make his case for a place in France, even if supporting Randolph is the extent of his involvement.

"I have experience from major tournaments and if I don't play I feel I still have something to offer the group," said Given yesterday,

"I'm not saying I don't want to play as I am desperate to play against Sweden but if I don't play I will help Darren or Keiren or David or whoever gets the nod. Anything I can pass on to the group I will, it's what best for the team and I think I have lots to offer."

Given turned 40 in April and, while he has another year remaining on his Stoke contract, he has reasoned that staying on for the World Cup campaign doesn't really make sense because of his age.

He walked into the press room yesterday with newcomer Callum O'Dowda, with a conversation on the way in reminding Ireland's most capped goalkeeper that he's been around the scene for a long time.

"I was talking to Callum there and he's 21," he said. "I made my debut at 19. That's 21 years ago. I've had a fair run at it I suppose, but I still feel I have something left to give. Hopefully in France I'll have something to give."

Given illustrated his determination to be involved by personally organising a trip to Qatar earlier this year to speed up his rehab.

"It was just a change of scenery, to get away from the gym in Stoke and go somewhere different," he explained. "It was frustrating because it was taking longer than I wanted (to heal) so I wanted to try and speed it up.

"It was always in the back of my head during rehab, the European Championships."

O'Dowda is here this week with a view to the next campaign as opposed to the summer, and it is actually costing the Oxford winger money to do so.

"I had a holiday booked in Aruba in the Caribbean with my girlfriend Isabelle that got cancelled straight away," he said, with a smile.

"I don't know if she liked that and I didn't have insurance so I lost out on all of it. But I'd take this any day."

O'Dowda grew up in Oxford and qualifies for Ireland through his grandfather Brendan, a tenor from Dundalk who moved to England to pursue his musical career.

He says that he hasn't inherited the singing gene, but the football is going well for O'Dowda, who hit double figures in the League Two side's promotion winning campaign. In January, he turned down a move to Derby County after failing to agree personal terms.

Clearly, he has confidence in his ability.

"It's a bit weird because I spoke to one of the press officers at Oxford at the start of the season and they said to me 'what are your aims and ambitions this year not only with Oxford but the Republic of Ireland?'

"I did say I wanted to see if I could try to push into the senior team in Ireland and he laughed at me and said 'Are you serious?' And I said 'Yeah, I'm deadly serious'. That was my aim, I wanted 10 goals as well and, spookily, I have got 10 goals."

Irish Independent

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