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Shay Given: The manager is paid to make big decisions and now he has one to make

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Shay Given is fit and ready for service but is relying on big call from manager Martin O'Neill

Shay Given is fit and ready for service but is relying on big call from manager Martin O'Neill

SPORTSFILE

Shay Given and David Forde take a break from training in Malahide yesterday

Shay Given and David Forde take a break from training in Malahide yesterday

SPORTSFILE

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Shay Given is fit and ready for service but is relying on big call from manager Martin O'Neill

The last two players to walk off the training pitch in Malahide yesterday were locked deep in discussion.

Shay Given and David Forde are the only two '70s babies in the Ireland squad but the senior duo have spent the majority of their working lives operating at different levels.

They will interact daily in the build-up to Sunday's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier with Poland but they both know that management are likely to be having private chats about them in the team hotel.

Four years ago, any suggestion that Given would one day serve as Forde's understudy would have been laughed out of town. But the Donegal man's decision to step aside post Euro-2012 presented an opportunity which the Galwegian has seized with both hands.

Forde has done little wrong, yet he is in danger of missing out because of what Given can do right. The FA Cup may have lost its old magic, but it has injected life into the season of the Aston Villa understudy and, by extension, presented Martin O'Neill with a dilemma.

Tim Sherwood has stuck with Paul Lambert's pecking order with Brad Guzan the Premier League preference and Given appeased with responsibility for cup duties.

Contrasts

Four wins have booked the Midlanders a Wembley semi-final date with Liverpool or Blackburn Rovers and the positivity surrounding those displays contrasts with the environment that Forde currently inhabits.

The 35-year-old is ever present at Millwall, which means he has endured a good deal of misery in a campaign that is odds on to end with relegation to League One.

Few fingers have been pointed at the number one - he's performed well through adversity - but Given has pushed himself into contention. He knows that he's a more viable contender now than he was in the autumn when an early League Cup exit to Leyton Orient reduced his match practice.

Seven months after he came out of international retirement, Given is in the running to make his first competitive appearance since Italy's tame win in Poznan on June 18, 2012 brought the curtain down on a major tournament to forget.

"I feel great, really sharp," said Given, after being instructed to finish his chat with his rival and veer towards the assembled press corps. "Obviously, the FA Cup's been a big boost for me, something to work for, like a carrot dangling to push myself.

"We're going to Wembley so it's great for the club as well as the players, supporters and staff. But personally it's a real boost for me because I've played every game so far and had stuff to do in every game as well, and I felt I was sharp. You can only work hard in training and then gauge your real sharpness in the games. So hopefully I'm pushing this week as well."

Given is asked if it would be hard for O'Neill to drop Forde to the bench. It is difficult for him to answer given his vested interest in the subject.

"That's the manager's job, that's what he's paid for - to make big decisions," he replies. "And if he keeps David in that's what he thinks is the right decision. Or if he puts me in. Or Keiren Westwood who's having a great season as well.

"We're very strong in the goalkeeping department. But the manager gets paid to make big decisions and he'll have to make a big one there. He might just keep it the way it's been going. I don't know."

Still, Given is aware that O'Neill sent his goalkeeping coach to watch his breaks from cold storage. "I know Seamus McDonagh has been to the last couple of games to watch me and, obviously, has reported back.

"And I'm sure Martin has seen the games on TV as well," he continues, before adding some meat on the bones of the detail to emphasise that he was under pressure. "Big games, big derbies against Leicester and West Brom, sell-out games at Villa Park and massive games for the club. And I felt I did well.

"But I don't pick the team. Martin picks the team so all I can do is work hard this week in training and hopefully get the nod on Sunday. And, if not, then I'll support whoever he picks."

The Derryman kept his cards relatively close to his chest when pressed on the matter while stressing that the long-term glove holder "has done exceptionally well" in his Villa outings. "I think when I brought Shay in the first place, he didn't have that much match-time but he's actually played a few times since," said O'Neill.

Back at the start of the season, Given spoke about the need to secure regular action to make a really strong case. But no suitable loan opening presented itself and Guzan has managed to completely avoid injuries and suspensions. "He's always fit and he's a big strong guy," he smiles. "You don't wish anything bad on him."

His former colleague Kevin Kilbane strongly believes that Given is superior to Guzan and called on Sherwood to promote his back-up option. But, when it came to his league bow, Villa's supremo retained the status quo.

"I thought there was a chance," admits Given. "Tim just said, 'Keep your head down and keep working hard' and the chance might come. So yeah, disappointed not to play but hopefully I've got a bit more of chance now of getting back into the team.

"There were a few (loan) possibilities but nothing too close because Villa did not really want me to go. Obviously, there's the predicament that we are in at Villa where we are not clear of danger. If they let me go and something happened to Brad, then we are in a tricky position, we're just above the relegation zone.

"So it's not ideal for me obviously but the bigger picture is the safety of Aston Villa."

Jack Grealish, who will now be tagged as Ireland's Jack Grealish again after his positive comments on Sunday, is also part of that debate. Given teased the teenager over his dithering.

"It's good news that he's stopped from taking his year out as well - I've never heard that before," he quipped. "He's turned into a student and taken a gap year. It's great he's decided he has had a nice rest now and he's going to come back in."

Given takes his own situation very seriously, though, and come the weekend, a rest will be the last thing on his agenda.

Irish Independent