Friday 24 November 2017

Given's Euro ambitions remain in focus despite daunting challenge

Republic of Ireland's Shay Given still has Euro hopes despite daunting prospect
Republic of Ireland's Shay Given still has Euro hopes despite daunting prospect

John Fallon

His grim prognosis on the health of Irish football will be parked for the next five days as Shay Given aims to negotiate an international swansong in France next year.

The goalkeeper's initial exit from an Ireland squad he's inhabited for close on 20 years was forgettable and he has no intention of the Euro qualifiers against Germany and Poland acting as the remake of his last stand. To aid Ireland's crusade for a play-off or, better still, automatic qualification, a clean sheet against the world champions on Thursday is desirable.

He managed that feat all of eight years ago in the dying embers of the Steve Staunton era but the German team that thrashed the Irish 6-1 in 2012 and bombarded their goal 12 months ago in Gelsenkirchen is more reflective of the threat he'll face from the current world champions on Thursday.

Given wasn't involved in the latter pair of games and nowadays, in his 40th year, with only League Cup appearances to show this season, says much for the task he faces against a visiting side intent on erasing the memories of last year's draw on home soil.

Maybe if the Donegalman had in front of him a first-choice defence he'd have sounded chirpier than yesterday's pitch-side briefing, yet the reality of deploying stopgaps to plug the holes vacated by injured trio Marc Wilson, Ciaran Clark and Seamus Coleman is unavoidable. And that's on top of Glenn Whelan and James McClean being suspended.

"It's not ideal," the Stoke City back-up custodian lamented. "Ideally you want your strongest squad available. But we cannot do anything about it; it's about the players who have an opportunity to come in now."

Given had just retired following Ireland's dismal Euro 2012 finals appearance when Germany last visited Dublin, a night that triggered the beginning of the end for Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Italian's successor, Martin O'Neill, has ominously declared the current German outfit to be even stronger than the side which dissected Ireland three years ago. Still, with a ban imposed on post-mortems, Ireland's stopper has cited Germany's concession of two goals to Scotland last month as indicating their potential flaws.

"I was in the television studio that night (the 6-1 defeat) and it was very disappointing for everyone," noted Ireland's most-capped player ahead of his 133rd senior appearance for his country.

"In football, you never look back. Even the 1-1 draw in Germany is gone. It was a great result at the time but this is a totally different game.

"Germany didn't start this campaign well, maybe it was a World Cup hangover, but they're back up to speed now as the German team we all know.

"However, Scotland played well against the Germans, scored twice and were maybe unlucky not to get a late equaliser."

Whatever comes of this campaign, Given has posted a bleak assessment for the future. Robbie Keane and he are just two of the mainstays likely to retire once Ireland's interest in the Euros ends and what's coming behind doesn't inspire confidence in a player whose arrival on the international circuit in 1996 kick-started a new generation of gems that flourished under Mick McCarthy.

"It's a big worry for me that there's no influx of talented players," admitted Given.

"We need another Damien Duff, Robbie Keane or Richard Dunne but I don't see them.

"I think Gaelic takes a lot of the good youngsters away, and the rugby is doing well. Some of them go down that route.

"And, because we're a small nation, if you take that percentage out of Gaelic, hurling and rugby players, it narrows it down for the soccer team."

Irish Independent

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