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Given frustration turns to excitement as he gears up for Hungary

SHAY GIVEN wore the look of a contented man. A significant hurdle on the road to Euro 2012 had been crossed.

He was worried before rejoining the serious business in Montecatini yesterday morning. Since he suffered a knee problem last Monday week, Given has operated in a kind of exclusion zone. A trip to London to see a specialist was followed by a footballer's version of solitary confinement; training on his own while the majority of the group operated at full tilt.

"Frustrating," he admitted. "It feels like I've sort of been boxed off for the last week or so."

So, all of a sudden, a routine morning's training was a big deal. The 36-year-old would normally take the ability to dive around the place for granted. But, under the watchful eye of goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly, every stretch was significant.

"Today was then main test for me," he stressed. "And it was totally fine. The proof is in the pudding when you can train like that and dive around with no problems. You're happy, and you're happy in your head as well."

Relief, then?

"We've been building up to this for so long," he replied. "And you're always worried, of course. We've been trying to get into this position for the last 10 years and then on the second day of training, you get an injury to your knee.

"That's football sometimes. We've seen players in the past who have missed major tournaments, so thank God it's not serious. I went to London last week just to get a second opinion because the specialist had seen it before and he was happy with it, so that gives you peace of mind as well."

He is keen to play against Hungary on Monday and, minutes later, Trapattoni confirms that he wants his number one to absolutely demonstrate his well-being in that fixture. Given knows he must be prepared to fully test his readiness for battle.

"You're risking yourself every time you go out for training," he says. "If it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be.

"I wouldn't want Croatia to be my first game. Hopefully, I'll be playing in Hungary. You've got to test it like I did out there today, test it all week, test it against Hungary, that's what you do."

Otherwise, it's a boring existence. Given is fond of the spa town where Ireland are based this week, but you sense that he is enjoying it a lot more since the knee gave the right signals. He was back in good form on Twitter yesterday, posting a picture of Paul McShane with a lookalike street cleaner, and generally giving off the vibe of a man in good spirits.

"When you're sitting out, you get bored in the hotel," he reflects, "The only way you can get it (boredom) out of the system is going out for a couple of hours and doing your job and having fun and you can't do that, so it's tedious sometimes. It's nice to be back out there with the lads.

"It's a lovely place where we're staying and it's good that we're not stuck out in the middle of nowhere. We're able to go for a coffee and have a walk into the village rather than being stuck in the hills and looking at the sheep."

Sunday morning's flight to Budapest will bring the build-up to the next stage. Right now, it's dominating his mind. News of developments back at Aston Villa are down the list.

He is asked about Paul Lambert, and pays tribute to his record, but his mind is on Poland for now. In truth, part of it has been there since qualification was assured.

"It's been in the back of my mind all season," he continued.

"Every single training session, every single game, you're building up to this. And it's getting really close now. Even talking about it, the hairs are starting to stand up on the back of my neck. I know how big it's going to be, and you just want to be a part of it."

Everyone in Ireland wants the Donegal man to be a part of it, too. The alternative is unthinkable.

Irish Independent