BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT THE AVIVA STADIUM
SHAY Given has admitted that he is unsure about where exactly his future lies, insisting that his sole focus for the next fortnight is on international affairs, but the future for the 35-year old Lifford man is seemingly certain to be away from Manchester City.
Given has played second fiddle to Joe Hart at Eastlands all season and a frustrating campaign was compounded when a shoulder injury kept him out of action from February until he came back into the frame inside the last few weeks.
On Tuesday night, he won his 111th cap for the Republic of Ireland. Rarely has he had such a trouble-free evening on international duty. He played 72 minutes of the 5-0 win over Northern Ireland and eased his way to a 46th clean sheet of his Irish career.
He emerged from the Irish dressing room into the Mixed Zone where he delivered an honest assessment of the state of play regarding his own future. The Mixed Zone is a little pocket of the West Stand of the Aviva Stadium where baying journalists gather for a few clichéd quotes with which to fill their pages. The steel barricades that run from the door of the dressing room to the exit door make the mixed zone feel like a cattle mart in many ways, the hungry hacks hang over the barriers, pens hovering over notebooks, casettes spinning in their recorders and dictaphones beeping, waiting for the next ‘victim’.
Given himself will be in a mart of sorts in the next month or so, as he looks set for a move away from City, where Roberto Mancini has favoured Joe Hart as his number one custodian.
But as to the next destination, as yet, remains unknown.
“That’s a good question and I don’t really know to be honest,” he said, leaning over the creaking barricades that separate him from the quote-thirsty crew on the other side.
“I’ve got two years left on my contract at Man City and I don’t really know much else apart from that. These international games are really important to me. The Euro qualifier in Macedonia is very important to me. I’m gearing up for that and I’ll see after that. I don’t really know after that, I could be back at Man City.
“I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to any club at the minute. I’d just like to get back playing football again, so I’m keeping my options open.”
Given started off his career at Celtic and his response to a possible return to Parkhead was striking on Tuesday night, suggesting that the possibility of ending his career back where it all started could be a runner before the summer has ended. Neil Lennon has already spoken on the record of his admiration for the Liffordman.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Given.
“I supported Celtic all my life. But Fraser Forster has had a great season and I’ve seen Neil Lennon quoted saying that he’d like to keep him there, so I don’t know what the story is there. I was glad to see Fraser doing well, I know him from my Newcastle days and I was delighted to see him pick up the Cup last weekend.
“I don’t know for sure what will happen and it’s all speculation, but it’s no secret that I think Celtic is a great club.”
Given left Celtic to join Blackburn Rovers in 1994 without making a breakthrough first-team appearance.
He said: “I’d like to have played for the first-team at some point, but it didn’t happen. I left there very young. Packie (Bonner) was still there at the time and, at 17, I was on the bench a couple of times. One of them was an Old Firm game, and I was quite nervous for that. It’s a special club and a fantastic set of supporters.”
Notably, he shrugged off the suggestion that his wages could be a barrier. For Given, now it appears that playing the game is all that matters. He said: “Nothing is insurmountable. I don’t know what the club want for me, fee-wise or anything like that, it hasn’t gone that far yet. Nothing in football is insurmountable.”
Despite having one of the most frustrating campaigns of his career, Given has insisted that he doesn’t ‘regret’ joining City. Two weeks ago, he won his first ‘major’ medal in English football when City beat Stoke City in the FA Cup final. He did help Sunderland to success in the First Division play-offs in the 1990s, while he suffered defeat in two Cup finals with Newcastle.
He said: “I have never regretted any club I went to in football. I don’t really like looking back – it’s all about the next game and looking forward. I didn’t regret leaving Celtic when I did and it was the same with Man City – I don’t regret joining them. Life is too short to look back with regret on what you should or shouldn’t have done. Sometimes fate has things panned out for you.”
He was back in first team action on Tuesday night as Ireland breezed to a 5-0 win over their counterparts from the North. While untested for the most part, Given feels Sunday’s game against Scotland is the perfect preparation for tomorrow week’s crunch Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia in Skopje.
“It’s been a while. I played in the reserves a couple of weeks ago, but it was nice to get back out there again tonight. I didn’t have anything to do, which was disappointing,” he said.
“I thought it would be a tougher game, but to be fair Northern Ireland had a lot of young lads out there. But we played well and got a couple of good goals, so we can’t take that away from ourselves. We have to take the positives.
“Tonight looked a bit easy for us, and it probably was a bit, but Sunday will be a different game. But it’s good for us with a massive game in Macedonia coming the week after. Scotland should give us a good test.
“I’m sure I’ll have a bit more to do on Sunday and it’s just about getting match-sharp and stuff that you miss out on just doing training that you need in a match situation. I’m looking forward to Sunday. Scotland are desperate to win this competition so they’ll be here looking for a win.
“Craig Levein is shaping them into a decent team I think, so it’s shaping up to be the biggest test in this competition. It’s a good thing for us because we’ve got a big game next week against Macedonia away, so these games are great preparation for that. “
Given remembers the horror shows of 1997 (a 2-1 defeat) and 1999 (when Macedonia grabbed a late, late equaliser in a 1-1 draw), though he didn’t feature in either. He was home in Lifford for the ‘99 game and while he missed the 2-1 over the Macedonians in March he’s off to Skopje next week as a man on a mission and won’t treat the minnows lightly.
He said: “They showed when they came to Dublin that they’re no bad team and it’s up to 30 degrees out there, so it’ll be a hot one. We’ll not underestimate them. They caused us problems here and on their home patch they’ll fancy their chances.”
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT THE AVIVA STADIUM